Birmingham and Touring
Stadium (Credits below)
The Main house, Birmingham Repertory Theatre to 17th June 2017. Tour
Runs: 1 hour 50 minutes, with a 20-minute interval.
Tickets: Birmingham Repertory Theatre: 0121 236 4455
Review: Samuel James Crawford, 12th June 2017
One hour fifteen minutes with no interval.
Review: Samuel James Crawford,
A play that leaves you anticipating the final whistle.
Stadium is the second project to come out of the Birmingham Repertory Theatre’s ‘Furnace programme’. Building on We’re here because we’re here, a piece of performance art where volunteers dressed up as soldiers from the First World War and took to the city’s streets, this play by Mohammed El Khatib questions what it means to belong to the legions of fans who support one of Birmingham’s football teams. Although that claim may seem somewhat disingenuous to anyone who follows a team other than Aston Villa or Birmingham City, who take up most of the evening, with West Bromwich Albion getting an occasional mention and Wolverhampton Wanderers completely left out.
The play is presented as offering the audience the chance to view different objects in what can only be described as a ‘living football museum’. Our host for the evening, the French actor Dimitri Hatton, promises to take us into the heart of the city’s footballing rivalries styling himself as a curator, mediator and, most importantly, a referee. Many football fans will enjoy watching clips of supporters reminisce about why they support their team, but there’s little to learn here for those who regularly attend football matches: all Villa fans will doubtless agree that Blues are an inferior team, and I’d be surprised if a Blues fan disagreed that their local rivals are harking after a long-forgotten past instead of focusing on their club’s current unspectacular run of form. In short, the clips are entertaining but there is nothing particularly enlightening in any of them.
However, it could be argued that that may be the point. After all, what is wrong with an evening celebrating the city’s footballing tradition? It is certainly true that some members of the audience did seem to be enjoying the performance, and it was good to see so many local people on a big stage like the Rep, but I confess that I was frustrated by what was on offer. In an interview in the programme for the show Khatib claims that the project is ‘an organised confrontation between theatre audiences and football fans’. Unfortunately this confrontation produces an ugly clash as opposed to an insightful juxtaposition with a myriad of different ideas fighting for prominence in an already crowded narrative. The Shakespearean references were particularly baffling, with Hatton at one stage dressed up as a Birmingham City mascot and quoting Hamlet.
As the night wore on the play became stranger and stranger. At its conclusion Gavin Thatcher, the assistant director, took to the stage dressed up as West Bromwich Albion mascot to sing a cover of ‘Wonderwall’ by Oasis, apparently as a punishment for lying to the show’s director about liking football in a desperate bid to get a job. On the page such incidents may look amusing, but by then it seemed like the latest confusing escapade in what had already felt like a very long evening. This culminated in an impromptu confrontation between the author Keith Dixon, who has written a number of books on Birmingham City, and the infamous local historian Carl Chinn, with Chinn interrupting the action onstage to take issue with Dixon’s assertion that Villa are not a truly working-class club.
Overall, it is a shame that Khatib didn’t choose to spend longer listening to the stories from local people about why they support their football team, and a little less time coming up with unusual ideas about how to stage a production that seemingly had a simple aim: to investigate the rivalry between local football fans. Khatib has recently argued that ‘Most of the shows we see in Britain are commercially led- 80% of work is commissioned. It doesn’t enable theatre to take risks and change the way we perceive things, and therefore changing the way we do things.’ These are noble sentiments, and the desire to use theatre to get the audience to question their everyday lives is applaudable, but unfortunately this can only happen if his play’s audience is engaged: by the end my feelings were not dissimilar to when Villa lost a recent FA Cup final at Wembley; I wanted to leave my seat, find a hot pie and try and get the first train home.
Blues 4 All
Neha Trisha Kaur
Joshua Jeevan Singh Parker
Hartej Arun Singh
Corpus Christi School
Director & Creator Mohamed El Khatib
Designer Fred Hocke
Choreographer & Performer Dimitri Hatton
Associate Director Keziah Serreau
Assistant Director Gavin Thatcher
Film Technician Zacharie Dutertre