Reform Theatre Company’s production of God’s Official, finishing its tour with a two-week run at Reform’s home base, Harrogate Theatre, provides plenty of entertainment. Robert Farquhar’s savvy writing, Keith Hukin’s economical Studio production and excellent ensemble playing from a cast of three make the most of very slight material and a story-line that is just one idea after another, without any interesting development.
As befits its footballing subject matter, this is a play of two halves (each about 45 minutes, incidentally). In the first half, nothing much happens despite the dramatic basis of the story: a football fan, Degsy, has kidnapped the referee whose decision cost his team a victory and condemned them to relegation. He contacts his more reasonable friend, Cliff, and together they hold Greaves, the referee, hostage, constantly replaying the key incidents of the match. Cliff talks about leaving, doesn’t, the referee insists he was right, the dialogue works amusing variations on repeated clichés, then an out-of-character outburst from Cliff precipitates a series of unlikely events that begins just before half-time and continues throughout the second half. Injury time ends up crammed with unexplained narratives.
God’s Official seems to operate via isolated dramatic or comic ideas. Degsy apparently handled his relationship with his potential fiancée with all the wisdom and finesse he brings to football supporting. The comic/sad tale is foregrounded briefly, but not followed through. There is a dream sequence which seems to be there mainly to show them doing a dream sequence. The whole question of a referee on a mission from God (as in the title) remains a mass of unexplored comic and/or metaphysical possibilities.
But, frustrating as it is, God’s Official is consistent in its audience appeal – and, on the night of Manchester United versus Real Madrid, highly topical. It’s easy to imagine its Edinburgh Fringe success (when, I imagine, it probably took a shorter form). Keith Hukin (Degsy) and Matthew Booth (Cliff) display enviable teamwork, finishing each other’s half-sentences, racing through complicated riffs and projecting characters which, if not three-dimensional, are full of life. It seems perverse to have cast someone far above the refereeing retirement age as Greaves, but Stephen Crane’s smug self-satisfied official is a delight.