It takes a degree of devotion to be a football supporter,
particularly when your club is in the third division. Danny and Lee have been Rangers fans for as long as they can
remember and their loyalty is certainly not in doubt. The play opens with them
bursting onto the stage hurling expletives at the opposition. Whether they are
fighting with rival fans, shouting abuse at the ref or waiting with dogged
patience each week for the bus to and from the match, their fierce brand of
team loyalty runs throughout the play.
’Til I Die is not about football
however. It is an exploration of the bond between two friends. The devotion
they feel for their team is its outward expression: football gives them a
reason to be together and the pattern of bus journeys, matches, drinking and
fighting is what fills their lives. Lee was introduced to the team by his uncle
and he, in turn, has been a role model for Danny, whose mother admits that he
“couldn’t ask for a better mate”. So when the boys sing “I’m Rangers ’til I
die” the understanding is that this is how their lives will always be.
The trouble is that Lee doesn’t like talking about ‘forever’.
He meets Lucy, a one-night stand who turns out to be the sticking kind; she even
starts coming along to matches, much to Danny’s annoyance. Lee also enlists for
the army. They both realise that everything is changing, yet for all the
shouting, singing and fighting of match days they are now barely able to
express how they feel about what is happening.
It is the inability to communicate that lies at the heart of
the play. Not only can Danny and Lee not express what they truly feel for each
other but Danny and his mother have the same problem. She is dying
and his dearest friend is leaving but the best mother and son can do is stumble
through a few steps of a dance to an old song on her broken record player. It is up to Lucy, who tells Lee simply
that she loves him and wants to get married, to identify the love Danny feels
for his friend.
Playwright Benjamin Cooper conveys the complexity
of Lee and Danny’s feelings for
each other with a mix of quick hugs, rough and tumble, and teasing, which is nicely
juxtaposed with the homophobic taunts that regularly and indiscriminately spill
from Lee’s mouth. He leaves the audience to make up their own minds about why
the boys choose to watch every game from the family enclosure, drawing
accusations from other supporters of being “batty boys”. When Danny, alone with Lucy, asks her
“what’s it like with Lee?”, we feel we know what he is really asking.
There are excellent performances from Sebastian Hurtado as
Danny and Cai O’Leary as Lee.
Samuel Miller’s direction brings coherence and flow to the play’s jumpy,
short scenes. ’Til I Die itself does not tell the audience
anything particularly new or startling but as a portrait of a friendship it is
both sensitive and honest. And you don’t need to be a football fan to enjoy it.