RoxyDog Productions takes the win with Why I Stuck a Flare Up My Arse for England, a production that’s boozy, ballsy and brilliantly executed. This unpretentious and in-your-face show presents an electrifying deep dive into manhood, sports tribalism, and mental health.
Flare is a bombastic solo performance, both written and performed by Alex Hill and masterfully directed by Sean Turner. The play delves into toxic masculinity from the ground up, all set against the backdrop of football fervor during England’s EURO 2020 final. The narrative orbits around Billy, an ardent football enthusiast. His viral stunt of inserting a flare between his cheeks triggers an unexpectedly profound theatrical journey. As the piece unfolds, it wrestles with the intricacies of identity and belonging, spotlighting the intricate links between sports culture, substance abuse, and patriarchal pressures. Flare meticulously unravels the layers of loyalty and tribalism, presenting a tragic narrative of disillusionment and grief. It’s not the “lads, lads, lads” perspective you’d anticipate but it’s the side that needs to be turfed up.
We traverse Billy’s journey from the playground to the pub, accompanied by his best friend Adam. From first footy match, to first love and even their first line off a toilet seat, they’ve experienced it all together.But, together they learn the hard way that maybe, just loving the beautiful game isn’t quite enough. A run in with a thirty something waster, tastefully known as Winegum, and his gang of overgrown delinquents, leads to a slow derail of everything they’ve known so far. The lads are pulled into a world of cult-like devotion to football, where rampant violence, homophobia, racism are just a bit of banter, forming the core of their new identities. Suddenly, even an act as extreme as shoving a lit pyrotechnic up one’s rear becomes a display of triumph, hero worship, and boys just being boys. This serves as a stark reminder that even the most cherished passions can be tarnished beyond recognition.
Alex Hill’s portrayal of Billy goes beyond the superficial bucket hat and England boxers, delving into the complexity of a grief-sticken young man yearning to find his place in the world, even if it means risking everything. With remarkable finesse, Hill captures both the comedic and vulnerable aspects of Billy’s journey. He skillfully guides the audience’s perspective, oscillating between presenting Billy as a brutish, cartoonish hooligan foaming at the mouth and as a more innocent and curious version easily swayed by his peers. Hill exudes an enigmatic energy, at times almost bursting through the confines of the stage. It’s tempting to imagine this production in a larger venue, where Hill’s dynamism could really let rip. While there were instances when Hill’s high energy performance led him out of the spotlight, and his movements seemed somewhat erratic, a touch of refinement of intention would easily rectify these minor hiccups.
Sam Baxter’s accompanying soundscape is adorned with iconic tunes, offering a nostalgic journey to the recent past. Baxter’s club scene perfectly complements Hill’s manic performance, and the synergy between the two storytellers is evident throughout the piece. One standout moment is the abridged Les Misérables segment, where Billy questions his preferences and priorities. This decision to attend a matinee instead of a match baffles his WhatsApp group, leading him to appreciate the arts and an alternative representation of masculinity – one that celebrates forgiveness and genuine emotion, with all the performance of a game. It’s a brilliant homage, sprinkled with humour. A minor technical note pertains to audio transitions; a smoother fade would soften the jarring effect caused by abrupt track endings.
Why I Stuck a Flare Up My Arse for England not only offers two fingers up to an outdated, patriarchal view of sports fandom but tells them where to shove it.. Well, and light a firework from. The production radiates compassion for those entranced by fanatical devotion, yet it pulls no punches in delivering sobering warnings. This work is of paramount importance, extending far beyond its eyebrow-raising title.
Recommended Drink: 16 cans of stella, 3 grams of cocaine and a hubris as big as Billy’s.
Catch Why I Stuck a Flare Up My Arse for England at 22:20 tonight at TheSpace @ Niddry St – Studio. Tickets are available through the EdFringe Box Office.