May 20, 2011 10:25 pm

Total Football, Barbican (Pit), London

Anyone approaching Ridiculusmus’s Total Football in the hope of clarifying the offside rule may emerge disappointed. Their explanation – “it’s, um, basically when someone’s not on the side, which means they’re off the side” – is unlikely to impress any football fans’ forum. But in most other respects this wry look at British identity through the lens of football is bang on target: droll, daft and deft.

The comic duo (Jon Haynes and David Woods) fashion a sort of narrative around the hapless attempts to form a British football team for the 2012 Olympics. Roger (Woods), a jargon-spouting government official, tasks Brian (Haynes), a bureaucrat, with the job of assembling a team and finding out how football and national well-being are connected. Would a win for Team GB ensure an upsurge in national self-esteem and happiness? Could the tribal passion for the game be bolted on to national identity? Unfortunately Brian, a buttoned-up little man, is football proof, mystified by the global appeal of “22 millionaires ruining a lawn”, and spends much of his time struggling to get to grips with the rules.

 
 David Woods in ‘Total Football’

But en route to inevitable disaster, the show mulls on what it means to be British and how we determine identity: serious questions handled with absurd flair. The swift changes of setting and style reflect the slipperiness of the task in hand. Brian attempts to cultivate an estuarine accent, struggles to persuade the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish to join the fun and ponders national treasures such as Alan Bennett, Wensleydale cheese and David Beckham’s foot. He seeks help from Miggy, an Algerian who is applying for British citizenship. “What are the five core British values?” asks Brian. “Marks and Spencer, Tesco...” replies Miggy.

Haynes and Woods pass and move neatly, slipping from role to role without losing their basic formation. They interweave dialogue with comic, football-inspired dance routines – jostling, despairing, rolling on the ground – as they consider the complexity of identity and the problems of a state attempt to instil national pride and happiness. Their finishing is sometimes a bit rough and their timing a bit hectic, but overall this is an entertaining match with some nice curling shots.

 

 


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