Arts: Theatre: Not in the Premier league

Click to follow
WEST END theatre has been quietly fretting about the World Cup and its potential effect on audiences. It must have seemed a fine idea to catch the mood of the times and put on a play about football.

The premiss for Elton John's Glasses is the ingenious fantasy that Watford were defeated by Everton in the 1984 Cup Final because a shaft of sunlight struck the Watford vice-president's gigantic spectacles and the reflection blinded the Watford goalkeeper.

In fact, it should be pointed out that Elton John sported untypically small lenses that day, so the writer, David Farr, has used dramatic and sporting licence. But then football drama is never really about football. Fever Pitch and An Evening with Gary Lineker used soccer as a metaphor for the characters', even the authors' own lives and relationships.

I have never entirely bought into the psychology of the genre. It can be a case of middle-class playwrights and novelists feeling uncomfortable with writing about a sport for its own sake, and instead trying to invest it with psychological baggage it cannot easily sustain.

Elton John's Glasses certainly does the sex, soccer and sadness genre few favours. Its plot is a series of increasing implausibilities. Bill (Brian Conley) watches the 1984 goal on continuous video loop and 12 years later is so traumatised that he cannot leave his house. His long-lost brother persuades him to do so by uttering something along the lines of "why not go outside?" His once-a-week lover turns out to be on close terms with his brother and a young girl who somehow kicked her football through his open front door.

No matter. A light farce - even one with pretensions to deeper issues - is allowed its implausibilities. What irks more is the stilted dialogue in which characters tell each other information they already know, and the moronic accents. Watford can't boast much, but it can speak proper.

It is surprising to find the well-respected Farr, and director Terry Johnson, a farceur of note, behind this lumbering comedy. Conley, Will Keen and Gabrielle Glaister manage to invest a depth of feeling and sadness that the script does not deserve. But not even a Premiership cast can rescue a second-division play.

David Lister

Queen's, Shaftesbury Avenue, W1. To 26 September (0171-494 5040). This review appeared in later editions of yesterday's paper