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The Bounds – Royal Court | Review

In the sixteenth century football was a very different game. If what passed for football then can even be considered a game rather than a sprawling, brawling knot of teams from opposing villages, rucking forwards and backwards through woods and farmlands for hours with everyone playing in attack and, sometimes, participants dying.

Soroosh Lavasani, Ryan Nolan and Lauren Waine in The Bounds at the Royal Court. Photo credit: Von Fox Promotions.
Soroosh Lavasani, Ryan Nolan and Lauren Waine in The Bounds at the Royal Court. Photo credit: Von Fox Promotions.

Notwithstanding that this production of Stewart Pringle’s exciting new play The Bounds is timed to coincide with the Euros, don’t expect to see a recreation of one of these cross-country battles. Instead, the action is set at the western edge of a miles-wide “pitch” between two southern Northumbrian hamlets. It is Whitsun 1553 and two crude and feral villagers from Allendale – Percy (Ryan Nolan) and Rowan (Lauren Waine) – are waiting, primed and ready to defend what Shakespeare would have called “a little patch of land that hath no profit in it but the name”. They know that the football is happening somewhere but is further away than they can see. They have no idea how the match is going but that doesn’t stop them from raucously supporting their side. And when they are joined by a stranger (Soroosh Lavasani), his motives are immediately suspect – is he even from the county and, if he is, then to coin a phrase, what kind of Northumbrian is he?

Leading the small cast, Ryan Nolan is outstanding as is Jack McNamara’s direction, not least because of the size of the stage, a stunningly simple design by Verity Quinn enlivened by atmospheric sound and lighting provided by Matthew Tuckey and Drummond Orr respectively.

In The Bounds, football is clearly a metaphor. What it is a metaphor for, however, is less clear. Stewart Pringle is a previous winner of the Papatango Prize for New Writing and his soccer-apocalyptic script – which he describes as “the most peculiar thing I’d ever written” – is both funny and frightening. It encompasses the dangers of unquestioning loyalty and sectarianism, instinctual fear of foreigners and witches and, most obviously, the plight of the powerless poor to resist the whims of faraway princes when it comes to deciding what religions are acceptable and where lines should be drawn on maps. It’s all a bit much and while The Bounds is very entertaining, none of the targets is really hit securely and the ending is quite simply baffling.

3 Star Review

Review by Louis Mazzini

Samuel – Sorosh Lavasani
Percy – Ryan Nolan
Rowan – Lauren Waine
Boy – Harry Weston
Boy – Wilbur Conabeare

Stewart Pringle – Writer
Jack McNamara – Director
Verity Quinn – Designer
Drummond Orr – Lighting Designer
Matthew Tuckey – Sound Designer
JD Stewart – Producer
Verity Naughton – Children’s Casting Director (London)
Lizzie Chapman – Stage Manager
Catriona McHugh – Deputy Stage Manager

The year is 1553, the true Golden Age of English football. It’s the Allen Valley Whitsun Game, and men will die today.

This is the big game, and it’s been raging for hours. Percy and Rowan are out in the middle of nowhere, miles from the action, when a stranger joins them, a stranger with tidings that will blow their world apart.

Time passes. Night falls. The great chain of being collapses. And they’re losing the bloody football.

A co-production with Live Theatre, The Bounds is a darkly comedic tale of national divides, folk horror and the end of the world as we know it.

Jerwood Theatre Upstairs at the Royal Court
13 June to 13 July 2024


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