PRESENTED here by Tip Tray Theatre, having won their What Happens Next playwriting competition, Sean McLoughlin’s ‘I Am Steven Gerrard’ is a tremendously distinguished debut work. Developed originally while McLoughlin was on the Everyman Theatre’s YEP playwriting programme, the piece draws on the author’s own life experiences, which helps to explain why so much of it has the ring of truth.
In fact, the content probably resonates strongly with far more members of the audience than would care to admit it publicly.
Shane is a young man who, on the surface, could barely be any less like Steven Gerrard. When it comes to football he has two left feet and on the odd occasion he does get the ball in the net it is to score an own-goal. More likely to be watching Pop Idol than Match of the Day, he doesn’t fit into the sport obsessed macho mould that most people, especially his aggressively masculine father, seem to expect of any lad who has grown up in the shadow of two Liver birds and two football stadia. It’s a lonely experience when you don’t fit in with the crowd, made worse if you also find yourself a constant source of disappointment to your dad.
When he moves away to university in Newcastle he finally begins to make friends, but even here he remains dogged by the expectation that anyone from Liverpool will have Gerrard as their idol and football as their passion. It is only after the death of one of his few allies – his favourite aunt – that he is finally able to confront the contradictions in his life and genuinely connect with his father.
There’s a poetic rhythm to McLoughlin’s writing which, along with a great deal of raw humour, immediately engages the audience. But as the story develops, the tone becomes darker, and it is noticeable that many of my neighbours in the theatre are physically drawn into the performance and quite literally on the edge of their seats.
The solo performance from Joe Cowin is electric. Much of the dialogue is in direct address but some passages are more dramatically shaped, especially when he depicts other characters, including various friends and family, sometimes engaging in conversation with himself. Under the sensitive direction of Amy Roberts, Cowin’s delivery is paced to perfection, driving urgently forwards through comedic and aggressive passages and gently applying the brakes to allow for powerful, dramatic silence.
While this partly autobiographical play does tell one very personal story, the way it is explored and developed opens up a lot of taboos for discussion. There has been much talk in recent times of toxic masculinity, but often it is more generalised and widely accepted gender stereotyping and social mores that can prove seriously disabling and impact on mental health, and I Am Steven Gerrard goes a long way in 80 minutes to show how important it is to recognise this.
I Am Steven Gerrard is playing to sold out houses at Hope Street Theatre until Sunday, but it would be very disappointing if it didn’t make a well deserved comeback very soon.
Star rating: 5 stars
Review by Nigel Smith