Thursday, July 18

Why I Stuck A Flare Up My Arse For England – The Lowry

There is something faintly absurd about spending loads of money to watch 22 players kick a football round a pitch, and I speak from experience going all the way to Istanbul to watch my team do exactly that.

So, I know what footballing passion is all about, but like all fans I was bemused by the bizarre photo of an England fan who stuck a lighted red flare up his backside before the last Euros final at Wembley. Alex Hill was also inspired by the lengths some thick fans will go to try and give the national team a boost, so he created his own totally fictional character Bum-flare Man to look at what happens when football becomes the only thing you have in your life

In reality Bum-flare is actually called Billy, and like so many of the tiresome morons who follow England home and away he is a white working class bloke trapped in a dead end job.  He finds a sense of self at the weekend, or by shoving a lighted firework up his asshole on Wembley Way.

It’s a footballing journey that starts with a kickaround with best mate Adam before they graduate to watching AFC Wimbledon, where like lambs to the slaughter they fall in with the local hooligan crew led by a loudmouthed racist and homophobic bully nicknamed Winegum. From there it’s short hop to an endless cycle of matches, coke, booze, fights with other crews and repeat, which some fans seem to enjoy these days.

Hill in an England shirt is an engaging and energetic performer using a basic stage with a background of England flags to craftly trace how a nice if dim bloke like Billy can see thugs like Winegum as a role model, and why it takes such a long time to give a loser that like a red card. There’s a really amusing sequence as gormless Billy tries to impress his arty girlfriend with a trip to Les Misérables, which as you might imagine goes very wrong as he’s way out of his depth and would rather be doing ‘bantz’ with the crew down at the boozer.

The tone of this solo show is a little uneven, confusing a mainly middle class audience who seem to think Billy is fun rather than a bit sad, but maybe Hill is deliberately trying to wrong foot us, and he does try with varied success to make Bum-flare more than a cardboard cutout. When pressed Billy says he stuck a flare up his arse because it was ‘fun’, but Hill rightly doesn’t let him off the hook as it’s soon apparent it’s really a pathetic need to impress his stupid mates, which goes badly wrong as his daft act goes viral.

There are lots of laughter along the way – although it’s never totally never clear if we are laughing with Billy or at him – as we head towards an obvious darker ending that to be honest you could see coming from about 15 minutes in. Hill just about keeps on the right side of making Billy a caricature, but it’s a close run thing even deep into extra time.

This is one of those football plays where you probably need to know a bit about the politics of the game or have actually been to a game or two. There’s a lot of pertinent stuff here about why disaffected working class white blokes act so badly trying to pass off their hate speak as bantz, but when Billy says he is a cult figure it seems he also has trouble spelling.

Why I Stuck A Flare Up My Arse For England is back at the Edinburgh Festival and then touring.

Reviewer: Paul Clarke

Reviewed: 8th June 2024

North West End UK Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.