THE THREE LIONS
St James Theatre, London, Thursday 2nd April, 2015
In a Swiss hotel, a trio of English luminaries gather to prepare the bid for England to host the football world cup in 2018. First we meet David Cameron. Actor Dugald Bruce-Lockhart has an advantage over the real-life ham-faced android in that he is better (i.e. human) looking. In fact, Bruce-Lockhart is more like Nick Clegg’s older, more dissipated brother, but he nails Cameron’s mannerisms, his pomposity and empty line-manager persona. Playwright William Gaminara gives his Cameron some of the most witheringly funny lines but it’s OK, you don’t come away actually liking our (current) PM. Equally good is Tom Davey, whose Prince William is good-natured and gauche, cringing and cringeworthy with his brash attempts at practical jokes and his Made In Chelsea ‘yahs’ and ‘deffos’. This pair invoke their characters rather than impersonating them but when strikingly handsome Séan Browne makes his first entrance in a designer suit, you could squint and see David Beckham there before you. When he speaks his first line, an audible frisson goes around the auditorium: this is the Beckham we ‘know’. And that’s the key: the characterisations are based on the public faces of the men. Docu-drama this ain’t – and it’s all the better for it. All three come in for a lot of stick; Gaminara’s satire is fairly even-handed in its mockery – but Beckham emerges as the decent one, or at least the least prattish.
Séan Browne shows us the cogs working in the footballer’s mind, by narrowing his eyes and working his eyebrows in a remarkable range of expressions. The comic timing is perfect – and that’s true of the entire cast, as the situation deteriorates into farce, complete with trousers around ankles. Antonia Kinlay is excellent as hapless P.A. Penny, new to the job. Bullied by Cameron and star struck by Beckham, she loses composure in tandem with Cameron’s loss of grip – Dugald Bruce-Lockhart treats us to a meltdown of Basil Fawlty proportions. Ravi Aujla does a strong turn as identical twins Vikram and Ashok – the latter seems to be the one with the strongest fire in his belly for England and all things English.
Director Philip Wilson keeps proceedings simple, allowing the actors and the script their head. The pacing is spot on and the running gags perfectly pitched. There is a plausibility to it all, given we are dealing with larger-than-life characters playing out the machinations of a skilled playwright, who shapes the action and times the punchlines to provide maximum enjoyment.
Of course, the bid fails – it’s not a spoiler to say that, is it? The men discover the playing field is not level. The system is corrupt and rigged. Well, guess what, chaps! So is real life. We’re not all gifted. Or born into privilege or money. But in Cameron’s struggle to play the system at its own game, he is confronted by his own shortcomings. His nature contains the seeds of his own failure. We, as audience members, appreciate this, while Cameron himself seems far too arrogant to acknowledge he even has flaws – and perhaps that is his tragedy.