’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.
- Louise Gooding