The Bounds

Stewart Pringle
Live Theatre and Royal Court Theatre
Live Theatre, Newcastle-Upon-Tyne

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Cast of The Bounds: Saroosh Lavasani, Lauren Waine, Ryan Nolan Credit: Von Fox Productions
Saroosh Lavasani as Samuel Credit: Von Fox Productions
Ryan Nolan as Percy Credit: Von Fox Productions
Lauren Waine as Rowan Credit: Von Fox Productions

A bare, misty set (Verity Quinn) with a piece of barren hard ground greets you as Percy (Ryan Nolan) enters singing a song. His teammate Rowan (Lauren Waine) joins him and their banter begins. Their different opinions result in constant disagreements, with the interchanges coming thick and fast sprinkled with laugh-out-loud audience reactions. Set in 1553 during a football match, which in those days could cover over four miles, the two defenders were not only miles from the action, they could not even see it—bit like life sometimes!

Though banal to say this is a show in two parts, the first scampers along full of witty, humorous banter while the second half is serious, intense and haunting. Not so much a play or story, more a reflection, with many pertinent comments, on life and the world. Samuel (Soroosh Lavasani) says, “it’s strange in London. Nobody really knows what’s going to happen. People are nervous, nobody’s really speaking.” Rowan: “no change there then.” Percy: “I thought the war was over.” Rowan: “you weren’t born after the wars, you were born between them. The wars are always coming.”

All credit to the director (Jack McNamara) and strong cast for creating such an intimate atmosphere, which draws you in from the beginning. The relaxed, natural delivery makes you feel you are eavesdropping into a private conversation. Nolan’s sustained, controlled, phlegmatic delivery contrasts delightfully with Waine's ebullient delivery and comic timing, while Lavasani providing an underplayed, stoical element completes the circle. Mystery comes from Samuel's entrance, a southerner: who is he, who sent him, what is he doing there? All is violently revealed in time. McNamara uses the small space well, with Alicia Meehan providing controlled action in the ‘fights’.

They say silence is golden, and the many powerful silences which hold you speak volumes; this director and cast use them to great effect. Set in the north, three northerners are in the cast: Nolan, Waine and the fourth member of the cast, James Green, who plays ‘the boy’; boy is interchanged with another Geordie, Nathaniel Campbell-Goodwin. Boy appears with a birch to inform Percy his father and the king are changing the boundaries, which will move Percy’s home town; Percy is distraught, he is bound to his birthplace, this and his sense of belonging are to be taken away.

Stewart Pringle, the Allendale-born writer, now living in London, is also a dramaturg. His many years working as a cultural journalist obviously gave him a ‘nose’ for a good story. The idea for this play was sparked in 2018 in a Tudor House in Margate. Pringle read that football was played in Tudor times with no set number of players; great, two 16th century youngsters stuck in a muddy field playing ‘violent’ football for days, a story, but was it?

Thirty pages sat in a drawer till 2020 when the world changed. Suddenly, the story was not about football but the world and his life. Indeed, football is like life: there are many positions you could play in, with luck you have a good team around you, you try to push forward scoring the odd goal while trying to hold the opposing team off, otherwise you go down, get relegated and have to start all over again.

This play is about many things, it has no ‘bounds’: friendship, history, belonging, love, faith and much more. It is ‘bound’ to have an area that you can connect with. It transfers to The Royal Court on Thursday 13 June to Saturday 13 July.

Brian Clough said, "they say football’s a matter of life and death, but it’s more important than that!" Go and see this absorbing, inspirational play that football inspired. Boundless food for thought.

Reviewer: Anna Ambelez

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