Manchester-based Monkeywood Theatre Company, recipients of The Stage Door Foundation Award and Associate Artists of The Lowry are back with their most ambitious and exciting production yet. Always showing a commitment to their Northern locality, By Far The Greatest Team is a new production about the football community in Manchester, the rivalry between Manchester United and Manchester City and a place where you are either born ‘a red’ or ‘a blue’.
Greeted by a theatre in the round, the Quays Theatre has been transformed into a football ground. There are floodlights blazing down with anticipation over a football pitch laid in the centre, banners hung across the upper tiers and an enthusiastic audience on the verge of chanting. It all sets the scene for this unique production, of two halves and four separate plays, focusing on football in Manchester. Under Martin Gibbons’ direction, By Far The Greatest Team seeks to explore notions around football fandom, identity and the effect that football can have on our relationships.
First up was We’re Not Really Here by Ian Kershaw which sees Sam (David Judge), a swaggering, cocky blue football hooligan chanting the lyrics from a City song that mocks the 1958 Munich disaster. United fan Ryan (Andrew Sheridan) and City football supporter Helen (Meriel Schofield) seek to act as a conscience and education around the historical event. It’s a provocative subject and an interesting script but there is an imbalance on stage and sadly, frequent overacting detracts from any passion or believability.
Lindsay Williams’ Stretford End sees United season ticket holders Robbie (Chris Jack) and Dunc (Mark Jordan) enjoying Sir Alex’s final match. An important game for any red, Robbie’s ex Sal (Francesca Waite) arrives much to their unease. Packed with funny ‘football’ lines and a couple of amusing twists – Stretford End is an humorous take on football, love and relationships.
Following half-time, The Good, The Bad and The Giggsy written by Andrew Sheridan takes to the field. Albion (Andrew Sheridan) is dressed as Fred the Red in a kind of wild west standoff against mobility scooter bound true blue Eileen (Samantha Siddall). Absurd, wonderful and warming – it’s a hit with the crowd.
This is the One by The Stone Roses takes us smoothly into Only Football by Sarah McDonald Hughes. Possibly the most impassioned and heartfelt play of the evening, Only Football explores the difficult relationship between a football mad father Gary (Mark Jordan) and his grown-up daughter Abi (Sarah McDonald Hughes), who manage to reunite through their shared experience of Manchester City winning the league.
By Far The Greatest Team has tried to pack in all of the feeling of going to a football match – the anticipation at the sound of the whistle, the ups and the downs and those last three minutes of tension and drama. This production is a must-see for die-hard football fans and theatre lovers alike and I applaud Monkeywood for attracting audiences who perhaps wouldn’t normally set foot in a theatre.
By Far The Greatest Team runs at The Lowry until Sunday 20 September 2015.