Blog: Sarah McDonald Hughes

The co-artistic director and actor and writer in By Far The Greatest Team says football on stage can work

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Football on stage – does it work? And why would you do it? These are questions I’ve been thinking a lot about recently, as we enter the third rehearsal week for our show, By Far The Greatest Team, which is made up of four new plays about, erm, football. There’s been lots written about the subject recently, and I’ve been reading the various articles with interest/horror. It’s true that it’s phenomenally difficult to recreate actual football onstage. And why even try – unless you’ve cast Eric Cantona himself?

By Far The Greatest Team, though, isn’t just about football. It’s about football fans. As a Manchester theatre company, we make work about our communities and the people in them, and lots of our work to date has centred around Manchester and its people. We’re also interested in making shows for people who don’t think theatre is for them. We hope the show meets both these aims head on.

Football is such a huge part of our city, and every week thousands turn out to watch City and United come rain or shine. As we began to talk about making a show about and for those people, we were struck by how many elements are shared by theatre and football. We became a bit obsessed, to be honest, fascinated by the pure, emotional experience of watching a football match as a fan: that heart-in-mouth, in-the-moment state that theatre aims to evoke but rarely achieves. Could we make a show about football fans that, when you watched it, felt like the experience of watching a football match, with all the highs and lows and rapt attention that implies?

Whether we have managed it or not is for the audience to decide. But as we work on the plays, it feels exciting. Each one is hugely different from another, but they’re all contemporary, funny, poignant, challenging, political, recognisable and deeply affecting, tackling themes about identity, community, family, hate, love and money. But at their heart they are human stories – four stories not just about what it is to be a football fan, but about what it is to be a human being, living here in Manchester in 2015. The production itself is hugely theatrical and exciting, with a football pitch being created in the centre of the Lowry’s Quay’s Theatre. We hope that it’ll be a really exciting, exhilarating spectacle of a show, and that football fans – and theatre fans – will identify with it, and see something of themselves in the plays.

By Far The Greatest Team is at the Lowry, Salford 17-20 Sept

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