Theatre Review: Pep Talk at the Axis Theatre, Ballymun, Dublin, Saturday 15th June, 2013

Originally published by, Wednesday 19th June, 2013. To read the original, please click here.

A play of two halves: Alberto Ramos’s Pep Talk, based on the life and career of former FC Barcelona manager Pep Guardiola

BILLED as a “fictional, funny show”, Iban Beltran’s attempt to turn former FC Barcelona manager Pep Guardiola into a more confident, slick and less ridiculous incarnation of The Office’s David Brent falls flat from the very opening.

Staged in the style of a business presentation complete with a projector and projector screen, the now – former FC Barcelona coach – who’s extraordinary managerial career at FC Barcelona brought 14 out of a possible 19 trophies with the Spanish side in just four years – is presented to us as a motivational speaker who gives business people the tools and advice that they need to succeed.

There’s nothing wrong with the premise of the play. Numerous sporting stars have, over the years, moved into motivational speaking and the setting of this monologue is convincing. Monologues inspired by motivational speakers have, in the past, provided the roots of great drama: just think of Tom Cruise’s tour de force as Frank T.J. Mackey in Paul Thomas Anderson’s Magnolia.

The most interesting elements of the play are its political dimensions, which feature early in the monologue but then seem to peter out. When Pascual’s character is engaging both himself and the audience with his history of the identity of the Catalan people, the monologue is at its most energetic. A strong, vocal and consistent supporter of Catalan independence from Spain, Guardiola emerges as that rarest of things: a sports star who actually has something to say; who has views that resonate with his / her people and that have an impact on opinion making. There are also enough witty references to some of football’s most revered legends, including Dutch footballing genius Johan Cruyff, to keep fans of the sport’s history enlightened and entertained.

Gaiety School of Acting graduate Pep Garcia-Pascual as Pep Guardiola

Unfortunately, the monologue suffers most when it becomes too knowing of its own influences and of its own theatrical models and then proceeds to inform the audience of these influences and models. In one telling moment in the play, Pacual compares his rivalry with José Mourinho to that of “The Beatles and The Rolling Stones; Blur and Oasis.” It does get worse, however; Pacual then goes to compare his character’s jealously of the success and achievements of his rival, José “The Special One” Mourinho to that of Antonio Salieri, the protagonist of Peter Schaffer’s classic play Amadeus, and his own envy of the effortless genius of Wolfgang Mozart. This particular influence finds itself in the mind of the audience early on, though the writer assumes the ignorance of the audience and, in doing so, makes a point of something that is so obvious.

The other problem is that the monologue of Pep Talk is predictable and lacks any degree of surprise or originality. Unlike, say, Pat Kinevane’s Silent – a brilliant dramatic monologue that reveals, slowly and with masterful subtlety, its many textures over the course of the monologue that is both rehearsed and improvised – Pep Talk reveals its hand too early and doesn’t leave the audience any room to feel involved. In this sense, it’s a play of two halves.

Star rating: 2 / 5
Review by: Philip Cummins
Venue: Axis Theatre in Ballymun

Written by: Alberto Ramos, Translated into English by Silvia Sanfeliu
Directed by: Iban Beltran
Cast: Pep Garcia-Pascual

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