Monday, 9 March 2015


Theatre review: Lardo at the Old Red Lion Theatre

©Photo Gus Miller

Continuing on with my exploration of London's fringe venues, last week I ventured over the the Old Red Lion Theatrein Islington, which I walked past daily for years when I worked near Angel Station but hadn't actually set foot it until now. After The King's Head Theatre (also in Islington) and the Landor Theatre (in Clapham) this was my third encounter with the 'theatre pub' set-up and I think it's my favourite yet. The seats were comfortable enough for the space and, most importantly, the incline was excellent, so the view from all angles was unrestricted.

Lardo is a young lad who is obsessed with wrestling. And even though it doesn't seem like he'd be fit for the ring, his sheer determination and unique outlook on life lead him to Tartan Wrestling Madness; a group of Scottish hard-core wrestlers. While joining them has been what he has dreamed of ever since he started wrestling, when he actually becomes part of the elite group he realises that it doesn't necessarily give him the satisfaction he was craving. He was hoping it'd make him feel closer to his father, who died in the ring, but instead he has to face the egos and nasty games of his fellow wrestlers.

Admittedly, a play about wrestling normally wouldn't be on my radar as I know little about the sport and it doesn't interest me in the slightest, but when I saw that Daniel Buckley would be taking on the role of Lardo, my interest was definitely piqued. I've seen the actor in several other shows in the past – most notably Loserville and Ushers – and I always enjoyed his performances, so I was keen to see how he would handle the lead in a non-musical production. And he did so admirably. He was charming and genuine as the naive Lardo and despite a what seemed ludicrous dream to join to big guns in Scottish wrestling, I soon started rooting for this underdog.

The entire small cast was excellent, in fact, especially Zoe Hunter as Whiplash Mary, one of the female wrestlers of Tartan Wrestling Madness; Stuart Ryan in his dual role as wrestler Wee Man and Derek, a man who has taken Lardo under his wing; and Nick Karimi as Stairs, the egotistic boss of the Scottish wrestling group who shows a surprising side towards the end. Despite their all-around good performances, I did have difficulty following the story in the beginning because of the very strong Glaswegian accents. There was no doubt they were authentic, but having to strain to hear the dialogue did distract me from the actual focus of the story.

The play really shone during its impressive fight sequences, directed by a real wrestling director (Henry Devas). The full-size wrestling ring took up the majority of the small theatre space inside of the Old Red Lion Theatre, which added to the realism of the play though its grandness in the confined space was also somewhat claustrophobic. This was multiplied by the heavy use of strobe lighting and sound effects, which would've been fine to use once at the beginning to transport the audience to the wrestling setting, but the continuous use throughout became excessive; creating a feeling of unease.

Lardo hasn't converted me or made me any more interested in wrestling, but filled with impressive fight-sequences and a lot of heart at its core, the play of the Scottish underdog fighting his way to the top is one that even non-wrestling fanatics can resonate with.

Lardo is running at the Old Red Lion Theatre until 29 March 2015. Buy tickets here.

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