The Lowry, Salford Quays – 17-20 September 2015.  Reviewed by Mavid Doyles


It certainly was a game of two halves….

…a remark I’m sure every ‘witty’ reviewer will make. In actual fact, it was a game of 4 quarters.

These four short plays performed at The Lowry, were written about ‘One city. Two teams’ and produced by the wonderful Monkeywood Theatre, a company at the pinnacle of Manchester’s theatre growth.

The doors opened to reveal an artificial and skewed football pitch, surrounded by an audience of ‘supporters’, many of which had chosen to wear their colours – an important element that perhaps the producers could have foreseen in casting the shows; this production is about football, for football fans. As a United fan, with a season ticket for 15 years, I was buckled in for an emotional and turbulent depiction of what football actually means to those die-hard fans from both sides of the city.

The first half opened with ‘We’re Not Really Here’ by Ian Kershaw. It’s shocking opening began with David Judge, a Royal Exchange veteran, delivering lines from a City song that fans will know to be the most shocking on the terraces – mocking the Munich disaster. With such strong writing, the piece needed to be carried forward with a passion and involvement in the ‘religion’ that is football, throughout. Sadly, it lacked this. Meriel Schofield played on the conscience of football hooligan, Judge, however, even with lines such as ‘Singing songs about death doesn’t make you a football fan’, she lacked the conviction and believability of someone who carried the weight of the loss that the whole of Manchester felt at the Munich disaster – perhaps a lack of research on both the actors parts? Judge in particular seemed intent on being the focus of attention with his heavy breathing and imitation of a passionate football fan – difficult for Meriel to carry the story against such over-acting. A show designed to highlight the removal of the soul of football by the media giants, it was an interesting script with provocative material that lacked the believability and passion that should be associated with football.

The second story again, failed to ignite a passion that was promised with such an anthology. ‘Stretford End’ was a play set in the ‘old firm’ seating bank of the stadium, as the title suggests, looking at how relationships are made, broken and made again through football. Chris Jack played an unconvincing ‘Cockney Red’ against the seemingly innocent fan played by Mark Jordon. Jack’s ex, Francesca Waite, arrives to add a little discomfort to the scene, played out at Fergusons’ last game at United. The scene continues with little drama, apart from the unexpected arrival of a fourth character. Some funny highlights save the piece, in particular when the ‘cockney red’s’ new girlfriend called her kids ‘Vincent and YaYa’ without alarm bells being raised. Again, a nice, inoffensive piece with some fun, but for those that have experienced a match in the ‘J Stand’, the truth and emotion that the writer, Lindsay Williams, was reaching for was missed.

Heading into the interval I was unfulfilled and left a little disheartened, wondering if any of the actors in the first half, being from a Manchester based company, in a play based on what is at the heart of the very city, had ever actually been to a football match, let alone experienced the thrill of a 94th minute goal.

The third piece opened with actor Andrew Sheridan emerging from the ‘players tunnel’ amidst fiery red smoke – already, the production team, director and writer of ‘The Good, The Bad and The Giggsy’ had touched upon the feelings that the football supporter audience had turned up to expect. This was, I thought, a show stealer, with Sheridan also playing the almost unbelievable, but expertly portrayed United fan, preaching to the masses. His quirks and string-belt added to a perfectly formed physical character. The appearance of Samantha Siddall’s mobility-scooter saddled City fan only added to the absurdity but wonderfulness of the situation. A Western-style stand off and faultelessly formed ‘Phoenix Nights Does Football’ portrayal of passion and dedication – even when your dog, Giggsy, a Welsh Terrier, has gone missing. Siddall and Sheridan give a masterclass in character acting and show that no matter what colour your shirt, we all bleed the same colour. Touching, funny and ridiculous in a perfect package wrapped up with The Stone Roses – to quote many United fans, thank god for the second half.

Show four built on what I thought was, undoubtedly, the piece of the night. ‘Only Football’ however, by Sarah McDonald Hughes, was fantastic. Combining the passion of every single football fan and the difficult history between a daughter and son, never did I think that the City winning the league would move me to tears (again!). Heartfelt, truthful and passionate and both Mark Jordon and Sarah McDonald Hughes (what a multi-tasker!) nailed it. Not only highlighting the difficulty a father might find in connecting to his estranged daughter, but also dealing with depression, an issue that is rife in todays world. The piece was not about football, but relationships. Subtle, beautiful and perfectly structured. McDonald Hughes was a delight and her text work was sophisticated and clearly intelligent, connecting to the audience on every level. It highlighted why the nation and the world can be united by one thing – football. For a United fan to be moved to tears by City’s winning goal is no mean feat.

All in all, a great night, however, reading through the credits, it makes me ask; ‘why would MonkeyWood stick so closely to the actors they have worked with before, when perhaps they aren’t the best for the job?’. The plays were about football, the city and passion, and some of the actors failed to meet the mark.

The first half, riddled with off-sides and own-goals.

The second half, a miraculous comeback, made into a comfortable victory with a touching and entertaining final piece.

Football fans, theatre-goers, both….go see this!