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Total Football

David Woods and Jon Haynes
Ridiculusmus
Barbican Pit
(2011)

Total Football production photo

What a self-indulgent lot we are, eh? We get to host the Olympics and then we spend the whole time whining, only ever using the Olympics as a lazy metaphor for our Broken Britain.

And Total Football, the latest offering by comedy duo Ridiculusmus, is precisely this kind of lazy. Funny, playful and well performed, but just a bit too easy. Partly it's because of the reliance on politically incorrect humour, the comedic equivalent of shooting at a goal with no keeper, partly because there is a lack of focus with of all the pieces and none of the coherence of a good comedy.

Broken Britain is on pretty strong display here: not that much of the UK is actually on stage, we're limited to a seedy and grim office space complete with 'cheerful' yellow and off colour lights, but in this little space we have bureaucrat upon bureaucrat trying to Make Britain Happy by crafting the perfect Olympic football team and securing a gold medal.

Consequently, Total Football is not really about football at all. Football is a convenient locker room peg on which to hang issues of 'Britishness' and that political/bureaucratic mindset. Football hovers around, with a couple of dance sequences mimicking it and some stadium sound effects, but the real game is elsewhere: the political mess of people who have no love for the game trying to make the masses happy with a football win.

It's not a bad approach and we all know that beautiful game is not confined to the football pitch, but it does give a slight 'mad libs' feel to the script. What we're really handling here is Britain's political class and it could have been anything other than football: it could have been Jamie Oliver's health proposals or getting a musician of the day to rap conservative or any one of Britain's weird idiosyncrasies that politicians jump on in some attempt at relevancy.

This decentring means there's a real lack of focus and direction. Is this looking at football as the last trace of a unified British identity? At the opportunism and cynicism of government? The absurdism of a policy initiative to make people happy? Inability of petty bureaucrats to identify and be like the people they supposedly serve? A bit of all the above, but with none of it really tying together.

A quick example: towards the end there is one moment where the walls crash down and everything did feel like it fell into place. And that was immediately followed by an irritatingly padded scene watching the duo fish, with gibes about masculinity in a half hearted attempt at emotional depth.

That said, it is really funny at points. Ridiculusmus work well together, both alternating nicely between the straight man and the idiot, and it's a very solid performance. There are some great lines such as describing football as "22 millionaires ruining a lawn". And there is something funny about the British obsession with football and the political use of that obsession, with a memorable speech by a minister urging the public to break out of the British football grief cycle: "we'll win next year".

Unfortunately, Total Football does not really get to the comedy of the matter because, for the good lines and set pieces, it's limp and unadventurous. It also has an insultingly cheap opening scene with one remark in particular standing out: commenting that slave labour in a sugar plant was work "in the loosest sense of the word".

There's real chemistry here; just a shame that there's little to hang it on.

"Total Football" runs to 18th June

Reviewer: Tobias Chapple