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Sing Yer Heart Out for the Lads

Roy Williams
Pilot Theatre Company
Salisbury Playhouse and touring
(2007)

Production photo

Three years ago I sat behind the goal at Highbury where the visitors were Bolton Wanderers, famous adversaries of Arsenal, many of whose more drunken and raucous travelling fans were determined we would all be aware of their presence.

Marcus Romer’s crisp production for Pilot theatre of Roy Williams’s Sing Yer Heart Out for the Lads, completing a week’s run at Salisbury Playhouse, is remarkably redolent of that Highbury scene. Of course, the scene has little to do with football – still less with singing. And Williams’s pub lounge, splendidly created in Emma Donovan’s set, recalls the October 2000 match between England and Germany, the last at the old Wembley Stadium.

It might have been almost any pub and the match, for whatever it may be worth, could have been between anyone. Germany simply added to the potential for foul language, prejudice and trouble-making which were all features of the Arsenal-Bolton clash and are to be found anywhere around the Premiership. And I’m prepared to accept that, were the fixture circumstances reversed, the language of Arsenal fans at The Reebok might have been no more sophisticated.

The simple fact is that the behaviour of Williams’s England supporters, like those at Highbury, had no more to do with football rivalry than that of hooligans everywhere.

Notable in a strong, well-balanced company are Claude Close, as Jimmy, landlord of the King George, Sally Orrock as his no-nonsense assistant Gina, and Mark Moneroe as the ill-fated Mark.

Light and shade are provided by Dekka Walmsley as the smooth-talking Alan and Tim Treloar as the twisted, trouble-making Lawrie. And there’s a neat performance, too, by the young Mikey North as the deceptive Glen.

In truth this is a superb ensemble performance in which the whole team deserve credit.

It is, perhaps timely that this play should be on the road when London in particular is the setting for what is conveniently called “gang warfare” in which innocent children are being murdered in their beds without a scintilla of evidence of any rhyme or reason for their deaths.

Within the hospitality of the King George, we find assembled a mixture of black and white football followers, supposedly watching England in the process of losing yet another confrontation with the enemies of WW2. That last epithet should have been so irrelevant as to warrant no mention. Sadly, Mr Williams and the rest of us know it is not! “If you won the war, stand up!” they shout at the faceless screen above the bar.

One thing about this play which occurs to me: some of the younger boys have earlier that day taken part in a local match. I remain to be convinced that youngsters, who regularly don a pair of shorts and play soccer, would behave in quite such a mindless way over the same sport.

Except that, as we said, this work has little or nothing to do with sport. It is about blacks and whites, the Brits and the Germans, and even, occasionally, men and women. That is to say, it is about prejudice.

It goes without saying that these proceedings end in tragedy. Someone gets knifed. The identity or colour of the victim is almost, though not quite, incidental. The identity of the perpetrator is, in today’s context, extremely interesting.

It would be easy to conclude that one never wanted to see another football match either on TV or in the flesh. Except that that would be totally unfair to the game and would allow the real miscreants to escape unpunished to take their evil to other areas of our suffering society.

The final performances will be given from 20th February to 3rd March at West Yorkshire Playhouse and from 22nd to 25th March at Hackney Empire.

Reviewer: Kevin Catchpole