You’re youngish, fatherless, jobless, overweight so what do you do with your life? Well according to “Lardo” at the Old Red Lion Theatre, you try and fulfill your childhood dream of being a professional wrestler on the Tartan wrestling Madness (TMW) circuit.
And that’s exactly what Richard AKA Lardo (Daniel Buckley) tries to do. Lardo wants to emulate his deceased professional wrestler father and, starting with a series of YouTube videos, recorded by his college girlfriend Kelly (Laura Darrall) sets out to convince TWM boss Stairs (Nick Karimi) that he should be the next to join his pool of wrestling stars along with the Wee Man (Stuart Ryan) and Whiplash Mary (Zoe Hunter). Being a feckless young man. Lardo is completely focussed on this goal and even when Kelly gives him news that would rock many a man’s world, he dismisses it and continues in his pursuit of TWM fame. Finally getting his wish Lardo joins the elite of TWM becoming an overnight sensation through his crowd-pleasing abilities in the ring and prodigious use of social media to promote himself and TMW making Stairs a very happy promoter. Unfortunately, behind the scenes, all in the garden is not as rosy as it seems and Stairs has his own problems, having to somehow balance the need to keep the punters coming by fulfilling their demands for more intense fights, with the legal constraints of Health & Safety being rigorously enforced by local inspector Cassie (Rebecca Pownall). Stairs’ solutions to both problems is pretty extreme leading to unforeseen consequences as the world around him closes in dragging Lardo, Wee Man and Mary to dark places where they all need to re-evaluate their priorities and life choices.
My initial thought on entering the theatre and seeing Max Dorey’s set – basically a wrestling ring huge and totally dominating the performance space – was that this show was going to be something different. And it definitely was that. I stopped watching ‘professional’ wrestling a long, long time ago – back in the days when Big Daddy and Giant Haystacks ruled the ring. There was a brief resurgence of interest when WWE with the likes of Randy Savage and the Undertaker appeared but on the whole my interest in the antics in the squared circle are pretty limited. However, I’m guessing that “Lardo” writer Mike Stone is a bit of a fan as he explored the dark underbelly of the sport
Director Finn Caldwell set the tone with the opening scene where two wrestlers punished a third for going off-script and genuinely hurting a third in a previous fight. Oh yes, spoiler alert here – professional wrestling is fake. It is a beautifully piece of highly choreographed entertainment performed by well-trained fit men and women in speedos and spandex. That opening scene – which subtlety tells an important story – really emphasises the point that wrestling isn’t real, until suddenly it is. Stairs runs his team with a rod of iron and leaves nothing to chance in his pursuit of providing an entertainment for the masses. I particularly loved the ‘script meetings’ between the wrestlers where they went through that night’s story. The cast worked extremely well together and with the audience – one of the few shows I’ve been to where shouting at the stage is actively encouraged – and the actual wrestling (under the direction of Henry Devas) was fast and furious with the actors giving everything they had to the performance. Although he shouldn’t be, my favourite character was Stairs. Nick Karimi’s performance was exquisite as Stirs displayed his various faces to the world. Charming, manipulative, rabble rousing, almost sweet, dictatorial Stairs was all of them and more. Unfortunately, Stairs was also a man on the edge of madness and, as the show progresses, his attempts to push the boundaries of entertainment get more extreme leading to a marvelous point when the baying crowd – and yes I was shouting for Lardo as much as everyone else – suddenly went silent, with the air of fun being replaced by a palpable tension as the scene built up to its shocking – and for me completely unexpected – ending.
“Lardo” is about many things – acquiring maturity, revenge, the pursuit of celebrity, trust and love and trying to cover all of these could easily lead to a garbled and messy production but the combination of a well-researched and delivered script and tight direction means the show never loses its way and the final scene left me for one caring about all of the characters and wanting to know the proverbial ‘what happens next?’
Review by Terry Eastham
There’s a tsunami happening out there – people are clamouring for Lardo – it’s Lardomania and yer won’t be able to hold out for much longer.
Obese, girlfriendless and struggling to make his way, Lardo (Daniel Buckley) is determined to join Tartan Wrestling Madness – the glamorous bad boys of the Scottish wrestling scene. When his dream finally comes true Lardo surprisingly becomes an overnight sensation, but the massive highs and crippling lows of being a professional wrestler soon threaten to overwhelm this unlikely hero.
As his real life descends into something reminiscent of a wrestling storyline, Lardo has to decide what his priorities are, who he can trust, and whether he can retain his love for the sport that made him great. As always in professional wrestling, accounts must be settled in the ring.
Lardo by Mike Stone
Performance Dates Tuesday 3rd March – Saturday 28th March 2015
Tuesday to Saturday, 7.30pm
Saturday matinees, 2pm
Sunday matinees, 3pm
Running time 90 minutes
Twitter @metalrabbitprod, @ORLTheatre, @DanBuckley1989
Director Finn Caldwell
Producer Metal Rabbit Productions
Set and Costume Designer Max Dorey
Cast: Lardo Daniel Buckley
Old Red Lion Theatre, 418 St John Street, London EC1V 4NJ
Friday 6th March 2015