Lardo – Old Red Lion Theatre

LardoNow I’m going to be honest you here dear readers. I am not a wrestling fan. Now don’t get me wrong, since moving in with a boy I understand that when Brock Lesnar beat the undefeated Undertaker in last year’s WWE Wrestlemania it was A.VERY.BIG.DEAL. I suppose the theatre equivalent would be your Am-Dram fanatic Aunt Mable taking over from Kerry Ellis in CATS. But still the world of spandex and egos just isn’t for me (I get quite enough of that in the West End thank you very much).

But there was something intriguing about the show Lardo, which is currently playing at the Old Red Lion Theatre in Angel. Combining wrestling with drama, the piece follows a slightly plumpish wannabe wrestler from Scotland called Lardo and his journey from small time gigs and youtube, to the bright light of the Tartan Wrestling League. So far, so Flashdance.

But I had to ‘smack down’ my initial impressions of the show as it is utterly brilliant. Crammed into the small upstairs space, the audience sit around a functional wrestling ring which switches from domestic locations to the setting of Lardo’s rise to fame. Max Dorey’s set, Matthew Daw’s Lighting and Kieran Lucas’ sound are all on point as they recreate the pounding excitement of a wrestling match, while seamlessly slipping into the straight drama.

What is brilliant about Mike Stone’s script and Finn Caldwell’s direction is that the show never feels like the plot stops for some wrestling or vice versa- the plot IS the wrestling. Stone’s script is sharply witty and his characters full of fleshy realism, while Caldwell’s direction switches from fantastic up-beat entertainment in the fake violence of the wrestling to stark smacks of grit when things turn ugly.

As our hero Lardo, Daniel Buckley brings just the right about of innocence, ignorance and venerability to the role and he isn’t afraid to make the audience laugh with him. Nick Karimi is electric as the manipulative and unhinged wrestling boss with a grudge. Four lettered words fall out of his mouth either as tiny drops of heroin or blades spat in your face and it’s easy to see how Rebecca Pownall’s Health and Safety Officer falls for his twisted charms. Another thing that is exciting about this show is it pushes female wrestlers into the forefront of the action and Zoe Hunter’s Mary is just as tough as her male counterparts, but keeps the plot rooted in a minimum wage small-town realism.

So if you’re like I was and not sure that this show is quite for you, throw your assumptions aside immediately. Lardo is a sharp, fast paced and engaging piece of drama and at fringe theatre prices you won’t find another show as unique as this.

Reviewed by Roz Carter 

Lardo is playing at the Old Red Lion Theatre until 28 March 2015. Click here for more information and to book tickets.