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Football on the Champs Élysées? Well, almost. Just a stone’s throw from the Arc de Triomphe, the Rond Point theatre has taken its wacky reputation a step further by turning the stage into a soccer pitch and sending the cast off to hobnob with professional players. It’s Boy’s Own stuff – and not a word about the 2006 World Cup.
The idea is dead simple. We’re two minutes from the end of a nailbiter, score 1-0, and the losing team is awarded a free kick. The entire play is condensed into those two minutes of destiny, centred round the veteran player who knows his days in the team are numbered. The action plays out in impossibly slow motion to show the dilemmas, the frailty, the rivalries that pass through the brain under strain, through the eyes of those on and around the pitch: players, substitutes, coach, psychologist, commentators, son watching the telly back home.
The effect is joyously collective, from the direction (Denis Podalydès and Frédéric Bélier-Garcia, co-authors with Emmanuel Bourdieu) to the strong cast, who clearly revel in this kind of teamwork. Many roles are jewels of observation and humour, especially the deadpan commentators watching psychiatric meltdown on the pitch, Daniel Martin’s coach, alternately ballsy and paternal, and Micha Lescot’s unmistakable comic presence as the existential gangly goalie with gloved hands helplessly wafting like anemone tentacles. And Eric Ruf’s design plays games of perspective with great style and fluidity.
Where the play stumbles is in its pace and structure and perhaps the closeness of the directors to their own text. Drawing out a two-minute slice of action into 90 minutes on stage needs constant renewal and surprise. There are some wonderful variations of rhythm and good use of music, but often the freeze-framed discussions – to kick or not to kick – are just too slow, and the flashbacks and psychological realism surrounding the central player feel unwieldy.
The end result is uneven, more concerto than symphony. I loved the idea but was quite relieved when the final whistle blew.
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