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Phalanx | The Lion and Unicorn Theatre

During the Summer of football’s European Championship, a production about a 5-a-side

school team is overly welcome. This has the means to get everyone into the sporting spirit

and support their nation. Yet instead, and more interestingly so, Phalanx addresses the

secrets and insecurities that young men hold tight in a play about exploration, identity, and

discovering where they sit in this world.

Seven teenagers are sitting quietly inside a minibus, with the staging limited to just the seats

of the vehicle. Their team’s coach, Mr Appleton (Neil Bromley), is never seen on stage but

is delivered through a voiceover to open the play. After explaining that the minibus has a flat

tyre and no one has any signal, he heads off to find some help. Instantly, the lads begin interacting and some life is brought to the stage as we discover more about each of their

personalities and the secrets they have.

Whilst waiting for their coach’s return, the lack of certainty of good news is the only thing

creating stakes, leaving the plot relatively non-existent. Rather, the focus is on tackling a

host of topics and issues that young men are facing in the world. As a result, the production

unravels as more of a dramatised presentation as opposed to a play. It is clear that the intent

was to develop seven main characters, each with their own secrets and insecurities that the

play would individually unpack throughout. However, with only an hour to do this, what is left

is a couple of deep, powerful storylines and a handful of topics being left without the

attention they deserve.

This is not a discredit to Alex Ansdell’s writing, as he does a great job with particular aspects of the script, but his ambition to provide each character with something impactful also hinders its growth. This is unfortunate as certain arcs would benefit from further analysis, notably for the characters of Alex (Mason Dhokia) and Tim (Haydon Watts). There needs to be more acceptance that some characters are there to help advance

other people’s stories. However, for the ones that were expanded, Ansdell created compelling drama that set a potent tone, leaving the audience in shock at times. It is worth making yourself aware of the content warnings prior to attending, as the play addresses several serious themes, but the conclusion is exceptionally strenuous.

Whilst dealing with quite a severe subject, Ansdell is careful not to write the wrong thing or

portray the reality of the matter insensitively. Isaac Gray, playing Jonno, deserves a mention

as he has to deliver the lines that are so hard to hear and must have been tough to speak.

Gray carried a strong performance all evening and was pushed hard to end the show on

such a heavy note.

The simplicity of the set allowed for the actors to perform freely and unrestrictedly. Having a

large cast on a small stage meant nothing felt empty, which benefited the show, given the

lack of structured plot. Gruff Williams was an unsung standout with his uncontroversial,

loveable character, Clark. Through him, the link to the name Phalanx was established and direct parallels to ancient armies were made to depict the similarities young male groups

have with them. David Frias-Robles’ vision was clear and the dialogue flowed harmoniously, a credit to his directing. This tied nicely with Sophie Telfer’s technical

designs, who succeeded with the task of creating purposeful lighting without set changes.

Phalanx is a concept of a play that the world needs right now. A lot of “lad” culture can be

toxic, unwelcoming, and damaging, so addressing this with a theatrical licence can open up

the roots of why young men feel and act the way they do. The moments that were given the

most focus are refined and polished but everything else felt half-full and forced in. With a

little more time, experimentation, and development, Ansdell will have a piece that can tell

the story he wants to tell.

⭐️⭐️⭐️ (3*)

Gifted tickets in return for an honest review | photography by Ellie Foxton


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