What happens when you integrate theatre and football? The Birmingham Rep’s new commission Stadium is the answer to that. As director Mohamed El Khatib delves into the passion, love and dedication towards football the Midlands really has.
With the Midlands being an area dominated by football, particularly due to the rivalry between Aston Villa and Birmingham City, and even West Bromwich Albion. Whilst verbatim theatre is incredibly popular, it is the first time I’ve seen the stories of the real people, told on stage by the people themselves. With fans of all ages, genders, races and backgrounds, we began to understand where it all started for these fans, as we heard stories of how they fell in love with football.
Described as a ‘large scale community project’ it involved hundreds of participants and a substancial creative team. These members of the public and die-hard football fans were used in a multitude of ways, whether it to discuss their thoughts on camera which was shown on two large screens interspersed within the piece, or to be on the stage live and sat opposite us on a football stand. Director Mohamed El Khatib is ambitious in his creation as he merges two completely juxtaposing cultures.
We are told many stories, most humorous, some poignant and many heart-warming. We hear about relationships that thrived on their love for football, teachers that convinced their school children that the whole world chanted Villa Till I Die and even a story about a West Brom fan whose late mother sewed him a huge flag and the memories attached to that.
We are introduced to different members of the public such as Mik Singh who set up Blues 4 All – a community group that provides children and families who wouldn’t normally be able to go to the game a chance to experience football at the Blues. Or Dave Heeley (also known as blind Dave) who adores football and goes to every match despite the fact now he has lost his sight. He explains how wearing large headphones with commentary helps him see and hear every goal. When Dimitri asks him to describe the last goal he saw, he articulates it beautifully as the house lights go down, submerging the audience into complete darkness – giving a real-life insight into Dave’s experience of the game.
With a variety of conversations, mini sketches and a whole lot of banter, Stadium is a different and innovative piece of theatre that breaks down the barrier between the football culture and theatre. Whilst some of it feels a little random and it’s not quite completely sculpted into a strong piece, the idea is strong, but it needs tightening and more of a structure in order to be a really excellent piece. Saying that, it is refreshing to see new audiences and people experiencing something completely out of their comfort zone.
Stadium is nothing like I’ve seen in a theatre before but I found it enjoyable. There were ongoing conversations between the audience and the people on stage, creating a community-like feel in the theatre, mirroring what these football fans feel in the stadium – which is pretty remarkable.
Stadium is on at the Birmingham Rep until the 17th of June, tickets and information can be found here.