The lights flash a toxic pink and blue that seems more suited to a Katy Perry concert than a pro-wrestling match, but spectacle is the primary mode of currency in the Old Red Lion’s production of Lardo. The play, set in Scotland, tells the tale of Lardo, an obese wannabe-wrestler, dreaming of stardom and his own legend. The play is in turns hilarious and unsettling, but all in all an extremely enjoyable one to watch.
Audience participation is highly recommended.
Stone’s dialogue is deft and moves at the pace of a bullet train, zipping in and out of slang and jingo that often slides over non-Scots, but he captures something of the sleaze of low-life wrestling. Admittedly, I am probably not the best person at decoding Scottish culture but even I could admire the Scotland Stone has created. Salty air and the cry of seagulls cleanse the cloying smell of sweat and smoke of the TWM (Tartan Wrestling Madness) arena. One gets the sense of emptiness, and even the overload of the senses in the arena feels like an unsuccessful attempt to fill that emptiness. Scotland here is not one of dreamy Highlands and Celtic heroes. The Scotland of Lardo reeks of something a little desperate, some decaying dream, embodied in the form of Derek (Stuart Ryan), a wrestling has-been and Lardo’s mentor.
Much of the play is dedicated to resurrecting the spirit of spectacle and invokes some of the drama of Greek wrestling, even as it’s played out against the backdrop of a 21st century rave. Dream and delusion dance closely together in this play, mingling with each other amidst the throbbing lights of the set. Stone’s script draws us deep into the complex, secret world behind pro-wrestling. He explores the wrestling world’s best-known secret: wrestling is all about theatricality and illusion. Characters “script” their shows, selecting from the choicest of storylines to the most calamitous of conflicts to draw in an audience. Max Dorey’s clever stage design here helps to carry along the arena-as-theatre; instead of a conventional stage, characters traipse around a traditional boxing ring.
The world of the arena encroaches into the lives of the characters, deeply messing with their internal calm and balance. No one has second names; everyone has a persona, an alias and they hide their histories behind these names. No one seems quite like a real person. They are all parodies of themselves and their inner lives: Whiplash Mary (Zoe Hunter) is never seen out of her dominatrix-like outfit, Lardo flits between a fire-engine red leotard and a white jumpsuit, and Wee Man looks like a lost F1 driver. Then their worlds beginning to collide, scripted injury becoming real injury. The psychosis of Stairs (Nick Karimi)—personal injury melding into personal vendetta against other humans—performs the perfect embodiment of this, where his wrestling injury becomes the real world injury to Lardo. The play ends in violence when the wrestler finds himself displaced; he cannot hide behind his persona any longer, and he is left speechless. He becomes the tight-lipped Derek, withdrawn into his self and his own broken legend, returning to it again and again for solace and assurance of self.
The tragedy of the play rests closely with the titular character. The theme of myth-making is given a cynical side-eye, the creation of legend treated suspiciously, and is given being in his character. Daniel Buckley’s performance was wonderful to watch. He made you cringe, and smile and feel so much sympathy, even as he repulsed. His purpose, full of pathos and self-loathing, pulsed with energy and a determination that often warred with my own knowledge that this was not going to end well. Stone’s dialogue filled his mouth with grandeur and tragic (if a little silly) nobility. So it was fitting that speechlessness marks the downfall of quick-witted Lardo, garbled words that meant nothing. The intrusion of real world violence into the sterile fantasy world collapsed the latter and demarcated the play’s true dramatic impulse. Lardo was a wonderful play to watch, humorous and full of a sleazy earnestness. The characters were difficult not to love, even in their unloveliness. Even if some of the script left much to be desired, it was entertaining, and for a moment, I believed in the myth of Lardo.