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

‘Outside Edge’

Upon learning of Bedford Drama Company’s upcoming performance of ‘Outside Edge’, it seemed only fitting that the show be added to our calendar of social events – especially as this is the play that will be rounding off our own 2016 season. So yesterday evening, a group of us piled into our cars and spent an enjoyable couple of hours watching Richard Harris’s famous comedy.

‘Outside Edge’ takes place in a single afternoon and tells the story of a cricket team’s attempts to win their game whilst dealing with the mountain of spousal issues which have all reared their heads. Team captain Roger’s seemingly ideal marriage to Miriam is gradually exposed as a sham, as he callously berates her throughout, and is ultimately forced to come clean about his infidelity. Next we have Bob, still tied to the apron strings of his ex-wife and unable to refuse her demands that he do odd jobs for her – much to his current wife Ginnie’s displeasure. Of the entire crew, it is perhaps only Maggie and Kevin that have a stable relationship – which, while tempestuous, is genuinely affectionate. Well-endowed in the physiological department, Maggie also maintains a rather ‘large’ personality, often fulfilling the role of mother as well as wife as she fusses over her beloved “Little Kev.” The cast is padded out by Dennis, a sleazy car salesman and Alex, a snobbish lawyer whose total disinterest in his timid girlfriend leads to her having a fit of hysterics.


Not having seen the play before, I was impressed by the snappy dialogue, and amused by the misunderstandings and ridiculousness that are the necessary components of any farce. Moments such as Ginnie’s confusion at the solicitousness of Roger – led to believe that she’s in the grip of a nasty bout of flu – and the rivalries between Bob, Dennis and Alex all tie in to add to the charm of the piece. In terms of acting, I was particularly taken with the performances of Miriam, Ginnie and Maggie. Watching Miriam struggling to reign in her rage as she transforms from dutiful, organised housewife to the stressed and harassed verbal punchbag of her husband, was for me, one of the funniest threads of the play. Ginnie’s sly allusions to Roger’s unfaithfulness were also amusing, along with Maggie’s bold Cockney exterior.

Having finally seen the play for myself, I’m looking forward even more to seeing what we ourselves will do with it – and seeing as our party last night included both our upcoming director and Artistic Director, I’d imagine that they’re already turning over a few ideas in their heads. So keep us in mind come November!

By Michelle Gibson, our regular Guest Blogger