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Football and Theatre

1st September 2015 by Martin Gibbons

Suzanne Bell, dramaturg for BY FAR THE GREATEST TEAM, discusses the similar feelings that theatre and football can evoke

Okay, so I am going to be honest.  I don’t really know much about football, well, anything really.  But after working at the Royal Exchange Theatre when Manchester United won the treble, then spending 10 years in Liverpool at the Everyman and Playhouse Theatres before moving over to work at the Royal Exchange Theatre, I couldn’t escape football – the mood in the theatre was almost entirely determined by the latest results.  Playwrights often introduced themselves and within the first couple of minutes would ask me whether I was a blue or a red – and I could write a whole thesis about the difference between a “blue playwright” and a “red playwright”.  I suppose the closest I came to being a fan was watching Liverpool win the Champions League in Istanbul and then driving through the city and experiencing the wonderful jubilant celebrations.  It’s a night I won’t forget.  The sheer roller-coaster of emotions, willing the impossible to happen, hiding my eyes behind my hands and cursing when things didn’t go our way, the utter unbelieving jubilation when Liverpool won against all the odds.  And rushing out into the street, along with a lot of neighbours I didn’t know, to share in the celebrations – a rare sense of community.

Can theatre recreate that??  I don’t know if I’ve ever screamed at the stage until I lose my voice, jumping up and down and hugging complete strangers at the end of a production.  I’ve come close but unfortunately that polite etiquette of the theatre has stopped me in my tracks.  But I have cried my eyes out in the theatre, sat stunned into silence and unable to move in the theatre, been unable to breathe with my heart thumping in my chest watching a tense moment unravel, talked with strangers in admiration for a production and spontaneously stood up to give an amazing performance a standing ovation.

Andrew Sheridan, one of the beautiful playwrights on this project and a superlative actor, once gave me a fantastic analogy that has stayed with me ever since.  He talked about boys in the street playing football who are ardent fans.  Those boys know their teams inside out, their know every match, they can tell you about every goal scored, they can talk for hours passionately about transfers, their favourite players, the most memorable matches etc etc.  They are “true fans”.  And theatre is the same.  I can talk for hours about moments from plays I have seen, playwrights I love, directors I admire, scenes and lines from plays that inspire me.

And so I am fascinated by the cross-over between football and theatre – the dedication to the beautiful unique live experience of an unforgettable night in the theatre, the emotional rollercoaster of putting a play on and giving it to an audience to experience, the nail-biting difference of a live show each night.  And how can drama and specifically theatre learn from and try to conjure the emotional intensity of watching a live sporting event?  So I was delighted when Monkeywood Theatre Company asked me to explore some of these things – it’s a tough and frightening dare but one that we all embraced wholeheartedly.


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