Birmingham Rep


I should say, at the outset, that I am huge fan of both football and theatre. Both are capable of providing much needed escape from the travails of everyday life.

More specifically, I am a fan of Midlands football – Walsall FC to be precise - and know all there is to know about the ups and downs of the ‘ beautiful game’. As a Walsall fan, the ‘up’s have been rare but all the more special for it.

A theatre piece about football would seem, on paper, a very good idea. Themes of rivalry, loyalty and passion are clearly drawn and the human stories amongst the supporters make for real and heartfelt drama. Football ignites and inspires. It angers and it amuses. Relationships are formed and tested.

It even forms a calendar to the lives of fans who plan everything around a season. No doubting the richness of ingredients but the challenge of making all this work on a stage is no easy one.

Director, Mohhamed El Khatib, has assembled a large and diverse team of ‘fans’, all from Birmingham but split down the middle with their loyalty for either Birmingham City or Aston Villa Football clubs. The audience sit on ‘terraces ‘ at the side of the ‘ pitch ‘, facing the performers on the other side. A clever way of setting up the feel of a football stadium, whilst avoiding the ‘them and us‘ arrangement of conventional theatre. There is no fourth wall. We, the audience, are addressed directly and invited to be part of the experience, rather than be distanced from it. It’s intimate and rather cosy, but all the better for it.

There is no particular through -story here. No plot or subtext - its not that kind of ‘theatre‘. What we have is a collection of stories, anecdotes and interviews with real people with stories to share. Whilst rivalry is real and crucial, it doesn’t threaten to overwhelm the genuine and often moving human stories that stem from the allegiencies of fans, albeit in Birmingham or any football loving city across the country.

The piece works best at its simplest, most honest level – when the fans tell their stories. These are not pre – rehearsed monolgues from RSC style actors, they are natural, sometimes faltering voices painting pictures with genuine colour and belief. It’s all about the people.

As with any football match, there are highlights. The fan who takes a huge flag to every game in honour of his mum who made it for him before she passed away. Dave Heeley, A blind West Brom fan who speaks with beautiful clarity and emotion about his beloved Baggies. A live wheelchair football match between Villa and Blues fans. A Montague and Capulets stand-off between the two club mascots. Its eclectic, for sure, but nonetheless effective.

Fronting a cast of non-professional performers is French compere, Dimitri Hatton. As well as performing and dancing, Hatton links the scenes and asks the questions, throwing Gallic charm into the Brummie mix.

In a society that paints football rivalry as uncompromisingly violent, it’s refreshing to see something that digs a little deeper. For many, the game is the background to their lives. Inevitably, a host of tales are bound to result.

As Bill Shankly put it: ‘Some people think that football is a matter of life and death. I can assure them it is much more serious than that‘ On the evidence of this, neither Villa nor Blues fans would disagree. To 17-06-

Tom Roberts


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