Would You Bet Against Us? A Rep Original Comedy with Told by an Idiot, at The Door, The Rep, Birmingham, Tuesday 24th May to Saturday 04 June 2022, 4**** .David Gray & Paul Gray

Towards the start of this funny and engaging show, writer and actor, Paul Hunter says that this isn’t a play about football, it’s a story about the ‘underdog’.  In truth, it’s about much more than that; how one person’s love of something, in this case football, can generate an infectious enjoyment; how something like football can create bonds between people.  It’s about struggling on against the knockbacks; and it also a quietly moving exploration of loss and grief.

The story of Aston Villa’s victory in the 1982 European Cup, provides an overarching narrative framework through which Hunter cleverly interlaces the stories of his relationship with his dying father and his struggle to become an actor.  We know how each of these threads is going to work out from the start.  The skill in the storytelling here does not lie in suspense, but rather the way in which the various elements are melded together in such a complementary fashion and with such warmth and wit.

The play makes use of a range of storytelling techniques.  There are some big physical set pieces; a football match with three players and the ball itself moved about the stage on a stick, is hilarious and marvelously kinetic.  The use of puppetry to characterise the father is skillfully done and deeply affecting; the puppeteers really seem to nurture the beautifully crafted puppet into life. Kyll Thomas-Cole, clearly a physical theatre practitioner, excelled particularly well throughout the show with a wide range of physical tricks, flicks, twirls and many – very painful looking – falls. It was like watching a hyper-animated rag-doll: wonderfully engaging.

Hunter sustains a deconstructionist approach in his writing and his performance, constantly drawing attention to the artifices of theatre.  Rather than undermining our involvement, however, this is done with a lightness of touch and good humour so that we are drawn into the story; conspirators who are in on the joke and, as a result, inside the drama.

About three quarters through, as the play transitions from being  comic with darker undertones to being darker with comic overtones, the change of register does result in a loss of momentum.  The younger members of the cast need to raise their energy levels here rather than backing away.  The flow falters, but only briefly.  The various strands are carefully raveled together in a poignant ‘dying-fall’ ending. However, the inclusion of an actual interval between the two halves of the play might have served the reception of the shorter, second half of the play greatly.

As someone who is not  into football, I wasn’t sure about this one when I took my seat in the theatre.  In the event, it’s a great show whether you are a fan or not.  Who knows, I might even go to a match.

Created by : Told by an Idiot

Performers: Lori Hopkins, Paul Hunter, Heather Lai, Kyll Thomas-Cole

Writer: Paul Hunter

Set & Costumes: Sophia Clist

Lighting Designer: Lucy Adams

Sound Designer & Composer: Esther Kehinde Ajayi

Puppetry Designer: Rachel Leonard

Associate Director: Ursula Martinez/Michael Vale

Dance Choreographer: Etta Murffitt

Puppet Designer & Maker: Lyndie Wright

Assistant Director: Andrea Cabrera Luna



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