Review: The Bounds, Stewart Pringle, Royal Court Theatre, by Hannah Goslin

 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

The Euros have kicked off. Dear England is returning to the West End. Is football coming home? They hope so in 1553.

This is the second play I have seen at the Royal Court focusing on historical football fans and their livelihoods around this time. Prior, Gunter featured this similar focus, pulling off into witchcraft and female alienation. The Bounds touches on this slightly, but this play is a bit more than that. It is about divides in place, in status, in religion. Dark but comical, and somehow relatable.

In London, there is currently a focus on regional plays and characters: Nye, based on the Welsh pioneer Nye Bevan; Boys From the Black Stuff, based in 80s Liverpool, and now The Bounds, again, bringing regional writing and theatre, from Newcastle. It feels like a rich time to bring these stories into the city and open up to other stories.

Rowan and Percy, as far as we can tell by their immediate interactions, are old friends. Grown up as some of the working class of the area, their only joy is to take part in this huge football game that spans miles between towns. There’s a modernisation to their attitudes and it is something we relate to, whether football fans or not. And somehow this is also pretty comical – a lively fan, impoverish and of an ancient time, shouting and bursting with excitement of a football game. The rapport between Rowan and Percy is natural, on beat and quick in succession. The back and forth “banter” sets the precedence for the play, and we relax into the setting.

That is until is goes all wrong. A appearance of a stranger changes this; suspicions arise, wariness unfolds and a secrecy is prevalent. This interaction starts off quite comical but soon it gets dark, with visions unnatural and non-nonsensical. When lighting changes and these “visions” appear, we are drowned in a sense of foreboding, an end of the world mystique and soon the laughter is long gone. We are forced to think of our own mortality, of the status of our World and it is an uncomfortable setting, with the actors almost making us teeter on the edge for a surprise that never comes.

The Bounds is a fantastic play, making you relax into a sense of security only to be directly pulled out of it. Combinations of the writing, actors and the stage/set all culminate to make something riveting and (in a good way) uncomfortable.

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