Threatre: Revival finds a league of its own

Shooting Star

Chester Gateway Theatre

IMAGINE: a star footballer, say David Beckham, combs his centre-parting to ask a favour of his fiancee's employer. Can Vicky have next Wednesday and Thursday off so we can get married? Two days! But the employer happens also to be the chairman of a rival club, currently in a comic state of disarray, and he spies a chance to save his team.

How does a transfer, a part-time job in the firm's packing department, on top of your pounds 12 a week, and a little house so you won't have to live with Vicky's folks, sound to you? Yes please Mr Sugar, says the earnest Becksy, searching for his forelock, Mr Ferguson doesn't like me dribbling at United.

The Professional Footballers Association should have demanded to sponsor Chester Gateway's ingenious idea to revive Basil Thomas' 1948 football comedy since it serves to show exactly how they can now afford to do so. In that era of the leather ball, the 2pm kick-off and the maximum wage, the footballer is Red Rutter, "the Dribbler", of Todchester Rovers (Tony Forsyth), and the chairman Joseph Lawson (Kenneth Gilbert) who has let his printing business go to pot in his quest for trophies for Burnville United.

Appropriately there is not a glimpse of green here for the real action is in office and boardroom, beautifully recreated in period by Norman Coates with its wooden filing cabinets, ponderous panelling and yards of full worsted. Moreover, it is staged by someone who was there: Frith Banbury directed the West End premiere of , as he did, among many others, Rattigan's The Deep Blue Sea. He can clearly still cover every blade of grass. But the future can be glimpsed working itself up.

The parallel plot in which Lawson's firm is sliding towards failure is a microcosm of an industry reluctant to modernise and trading on the uncritical patronage of its traditional clients. This action is perceptively and quite movingly associated with the hesitant middle-aged romance of Lawson's secretary (Angela Scoular) and the major client's rep, excellently played Philip Bond. It is fascinating to see a work with no pretension at all to be a serious "issues" play dealing so effectively with ground- level economics. And the future economics of football are also in sight.

Apparently a butter-wouldn't-melt office mouse Ned's fiancee Mavis sees exactly the injustice of the chattel system and what the earning power of her "young man" really is.

Chloe Newsome may look like porcelain but she shows Mavis has certainly some shot on her. Perhaps, back in 1948, Jimmy Hill was in the gods taking notes. Unfortunately the play recoils from modernity with the revanchism of Corinthian values in the person of the old amateur and new chairman Jack Bannerman (Antony Gabriel).

The game's the thing once more, and gone is the old deference. When Mavis tries to open negotiations with him she is quickly silenced. But not for long, not for long.

runs until 23 May; tickets 01244 340392

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