Why I Stuck a Flare Up My Arse For England

Alex Hill
Joshua Beaumont , Matthew Emeny and The Roxy Dog
The Lowry, Salford

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Why I Stuck a Flare Up My Arse For England Credit: Rah Petherbridge
Why I Stuck a Flare Up My Arse For England Credit: Rah Petherbridge
Why I Stuck a Flare Up My Arse For England Credit: Rah Petherbridge
Why I Stuck a Flare Up My Arse For England Credit: Rah Petherbridge
Why I Stuck a Flare Up My Arse For England Credit: Rah Petherbridge
Why I Stuck a Flare Up My Arse For England Credit: Rah Petherbridge

As someone who regularly goes to the theatre a couple of nights a week and is also infatuated with books and comics, I’m in no position to judge how people spend their leisure time. The need to avoid rushing to judgement is well-made in Alex Hill’s Why I Stuck a Flare Up My Arse For England in which a football obsessive unexpectedly finds theatre gives the same buzz as watching a football match. But football offers other excitements which can be considered antisocial.

During the 2020 Euros, an image arose which provoked widespread concern about the decline in civilised behaviour in the UK: a football fan pants down with a lit flare clutched between the cheeks of his bottom. You don’t see theatregoers behaving like that, well, except in Manchester.

The opening of Alex Hill’s play tries to provoke an outraged audience response as the blank verse speech by the offending character defiantly and ignorantly links his crude behaviour to the poetic landscape of William Blake and, of course, St. George. Hill’s script is stuffed with gorgeous observations—a gift of a rare, signed football is like taking money from your Nan: you feel guilty but want it just the same.

As a child, the central character, Billy, finds football helps him overcome shyness and socialise at school and later compensates for an unfulfilling job. But he remains unable to talk to women until introduced to confidence-building cocaine by an aggressive gang of football fans. Billy, however, now finds, rather than just fitting in, he must impress his new friends and, in trying to do so, neglects both his oldest friend from school and his girlfriend. Furthermore, the acts of violence and stupid stunts have an intoxicating quality, pushing Billy to increasingly excessive behaviour.

Hill opens the show leading the audience in a football chant. It is an inspired approach, capturing both the warm-hearted communal aspect of football and the fascist attitude that demands everyone must join in whether they want to or not. Hill is the sole performer, bringing to life a range of characters. His vocal characterisations range from a hectoring, in-yer-face roar to a more conciliatory, reasoning tone.

Director Sean Turner stages a very physical production—Alex Hill rarely stands still for a moment. This gives the impression of desperation rather than simply of someone wired on cocaine. Hill’s constant motion suggests he is trying to avoid considering the impact of his actions as if, were he to pause, he would have to acknowledge his excessive behaviour. The football chant "Don't Take Me Home" gains a dark quality as if the football fans are using their obsession with the game as a shield against the mundanity of their daily lives.

Although very funny, Why I Stuck a Flare Up My Arse For England is a cautionary tale balancing the benefits of taking part in communal events against the perils of allowing them to become obsessions. Now you must excuse me; I have to get ready for the theatre.

Reviewer: David Cunningham

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