Theatre Sports..?

When Outside Edge was announced as the club’s winter production, I initially didn’t give much consideration to the fact that the play revolved around a sports setting. If the cricket pavilion environment inspired any thoughts at all, it was mainly at how quaintly and typically English it was; all public school alumni and afternoon teas. But reflecting on the matter, I ended up asking myself how many plays I had seen, read, or even heard of, that contained some kind of sports theme. The answer was not very many. Outside Edge, it seemed, was one of a very small group.

Sport in theatre is not exactly unheard of – a recent example is Patrick Marber’s The Red Lion, a tale about a little-known, semi-professional football team. Other examples include The Changing Room by David Storey, and An Evening with Gary Lineker. From the other side of the pond, we have Richard Greenberg’s Take Me Out, most of which takes place in the locker room of a baseball team. That said, given the prestige it carries in society, the topic of sport appears to be very underrepresented within theatre. Film and television certainly cater to the subject of sport; of the movies I watched in my early years, one was a rather stock tale about a hapless baseball team that finally wins their season. So it’s interesting to ponder what sets theatre apart in this regard: what are the reasons for the relative segregation of athletics and stage plays? One cause may simply be the domain itself; logistically speaking, a theatre is hardly a favourable medium to stage scenes of football or rugby matches. How long before an unlucky audience member would be struck in the face by a flying tennis ball? One can always get around this, however, by eliminating from the narrative any episodes of actual sports activity. This, incidentally, is how Richard Harris has handled Outside Edge; all cricket action takes place offstage and is merely referred to by the characters.

'The Red Lion' at the National Theatre in 2015
‘The Red Lion’ at the National Theatre in 2015

Is there an element of cultural snobbery at play? Do some theatre aficionados regard sports as a lowbrow pastime and deem there to be such an insurmountable contrast between the two fields that any mingling of the subjects is taboo? An article in American Theatre Magazine challenges such a stereotype, arguing that:
“The athletic and dramatic spheres have more in common than at first glance. Both thrive on spectacle and conflict—the more that is at stake, the better… the human stories in the athletic arena hold as much artistic fodder for playwrights as for screenwriters, TV scribes and sports columnists… both plays and sports are man-made imitations of conflict, drama and competition performed in sacred spaces throughout the world.” It’s a view that is shared by playwright, screenwriter and basketball enthusiast Robert Attenweiler, who once described watching NBA player Michael Jordan as “Aristotelian drama”, adding that “Dynasties in sports are Aristotelian tragedy.” People might quibble over his precise terminology, but it’s quite eye-opening to explore what common ground sports and theatre really do have. Both can serve their viewers alternately as entertainment or profound emotional experiences. Both can ignite in their audiences a shift in consciousness, a portal to one specific stage (or football field) and an atmosphere in which anything happening outside this space is obsolete and ignored.

ITV’s sitcom adaptation of Outside Edge

Perhaps the most touching perspective was that of actor Paden Fallis, whose reflections covered the shared catharsis of sports and drama: “Both offer hope, exhilaration, escape from the mundane, the chance to witness greatness, talented people creating beauty with the greatness of ease. And both sports and theatre get us back in touch with what it means to feel, to rejoice, to love.”

by Guest Blogger Michelle Gibson

Our National Theatre’s Good

What a day! The latest of the club’s many social events proved to be arguably the best yet. Many thanks first of all to Josephine, our social secretary, for doing such a great job of organising the day – absolutely top notch. And thank you to our wonderful National Theatre for being the best place in the capital to enjoy a full day of theatre. Already a great venue, the NT’s recent redevelopment has taken the place to another level.

NT Trip

Twenty of us in total took the train into London on Saturday morning, including many new faces joining us for the first time. We arrived on the South Bank around 11.15am & headed straight for coffee in the new ground floor cafe, Kitchen, before beginning our backstage tour. I cannot recommend the tour enough – this was my third time. The tour guides are excellent – informative & entertaining and because of the constantly changing shows within the theatres, the tour is always slightly different. Beginning in the impressive Olivier auditorium, based on the Ancient Greek theatre in Epidaurus, the NT is a breathtaking combination of theatrical ingenuity, technology, creativity and ground-breaking artistic production. The most impressive feature is arguably the drum revolve on the Olivier stage – rather than try to explain it, take a look at this video here. The Olivier holds an audience of 1100 people, all of whom have an unrestricted view of the stage, a design which also means that an actor on stage, standing in the position known as the ‘point of command’ can see every audience member in his peripheral vision, without moving his head.

View from the Sherling High Walkway

Another interesting addition to the tour is the Sherling High Walkway (above), where the public are offered a glimpse into the inner workings of the props department, set construction & paint shop, where plays are constructed on a truly industrial scale. On any given day here there can be up to a thousand people at work.

Dee, Josephine, Linda & Sue embarking on the backstage tour of the NT.
Dee, Josephine, Linda & Sue embarking on the backstage tour of the NT.

Emerging from our tour the theatre foyers were abuzz with activity & anticipation for the afternoon’s matinee shows. We were booked in to see Timberlake Wertenbaker’s “Our Country’s Good” the story of a group of convicts shipped to the prison colony of Australia, who mount a production of Farquhar’s “The Recruiting Officer”. It’s a very powerful play, made all the more emotional by Cerys Matthews’ haunting original score. It’s inspiring story of the transformative powers of theatre left more than one or two of us a little teary-eyed!

The NT production of Our Country's Good
The NT production of Our Country’s Good

The NT also houses several restaurants and so we decided to round off the day in the new Green Room, which as well as serving delicious food in a fun and vibrant atmosphere also houses recycled props & furniture from past productions. Suitably fed & watered we headed home inspired, entertained & eager to return to see more productions at this great national institution. Thank you NT!