A supremely talented protagonist brought down by his own flaws is a feature of dramatic tragedy. But the real-life descent of George Best from the greatest footballer of his day into alcoholism is not so much tragic as squalid. Reservations are, however, offset by the ability of the late Jack Rosenthal, who wrote the screenplay upon which the play is based, to find humanity in the most unlikely of subjects.
In 1981 Angie Best (Charlotte Dalton) tells an interviewer the story of her life with George Best while trying to conceal that he has entered rehab. Under aggressive therapy George (Dickie Patterson) offers rational for his addiction including the need to fill the void left after the adulation of fans and the thrill of exercising his skill ceased. Gradually the shocking truth begins to emerge.
Ian Winterton’s adaptation is so skilful that you can’t tell the play was originally intended for television so complete is the theatrical experience. He gets excellent support from director Colin Connor’s unfussy and clear production. A company of eight dressed in uniform white and seated as if in a sports changing room circle the stage stepping forward to assume various roles and form a chorus. The latter technique has strong impact with the chorus chanting George’s name triumphantly while the character writhes on the floor in withdrawal. Connor moves the play along swiftly using period music to develop the time and place in which scenes are set.
The play does not glamorise alcoholism. Dalton’s interpretation of Angie is more like a baffled wife caught in an abusive relationship than a modern-day WAG. There is the clear sense of Angie being bound by a mutual attraction to someone she really knows is beyond redemption. The script is crammed with great lines and jokes but no one involved finds addiction funny. The oft-told story of George cavorting with Miss World on a bed of cash and being confronted by a fan asking ‘ Where did it all go wrong? ‘is greeted with a disgusted reaction.
Dickie Patterson captures all the aspects of a flawed but fascinating character. He has bags of cheeky charm but shows how it is used defensively as a shield as well as a seduction technique. Patterson does not shy away from the more repellent characteristics with a strong edge of self-pity and clinging need for affection. But under it all is the justifiable arrogance of someone who can say that, once, he really was the best.