Culture critic Madeline McInnis reviews Mindgame at the Belgrade, Coventry.Written by mmcinnis on 16th March 2018
Review: ‘Stadium’ at the Birmingham Rep
More Championship than Champions League: Stadium’s humour struggles to overcome its pitfalls
The lasting impression that I left the Birmingham Rep with after seeing Stadium, is of its charm as a production. It is, in the most part, light hearted, endearing, and jovial, however what I am less sure of is whether this “cuteness” is sufficient outcome from a core concept that has a lot of promise.
“Light hearted, endearing, and jovial
We, as the audience, were guided through these snapshots into the lives of Birmingham City, Aston Villa, and West Bromwich Albion fans by our compere-cum-tour guide for the evening. The performers who appear along the way were humorous and likeable, which, in the second half was tempered by an emotional and touching tribute to the late mother of one of the performers, who spent three years making him a large flag that he always takes to West Brom matches now, waving it and replaying Cum Dederit in his head. The waving of the flag was only accompanied by this soundtrack and on-screen text relaying the flag’s significance to the audience; the mesmeric rise and fall of the flag acted as a reminder that the inherent symbolism in parts of football means far more than solely that that meets the eye.
“A key premise of the show is to dismiss the actions of the few, in favour of showing what the many are actually like- regular, likeable citizens
For some, the idea of mixing theatre and football would rankle; such an enclave of refinement and artistry being invaded by the following of a sport whose fans hobbies include launching garden furniture across the French Riviera. A key premise of the show, as emphasised by Assistant Director Gavin Thatcher, is to dismiss the actions of the few, in favour of showing what the many are actually like- regular, likeable citizens who happen to follow their passion on a Saturday afternoon just like most others around the country- the only difference being that 40-odd-thousand others are alongside them at the time.
He places importance on the production being presented by non-professionals- by the people, for the people some may say, avoiding misrepresentation and hyperbole in other media. It succeeds in this aim, profiling interactions with the beautiful game from schoolchildren through to fans who have followed their club for decades. With the goal, excuse the pun, of positively presenting football fans, the production is well put together, using young and old, Villa fans and Blues to create what is a good piece of PR for the football community.
“It was an image, where it could have been an experience
The reason that it didn’t live up to my hopes, was because it stopped there. It was an image, where it could have been an experience. The reason that football and theatre are so closely related is because of the common features of the two: passion, atmosphere, catharsis (sorry Brecht). The use of videos was entertaining, but the interview format reminded me of an episode of Gogglebox rather than reminding me why I am a football fan- for those who don’t engage with football, I cannot imagine that this went too far in persuading them to change their ways. If a snapshot was all it was supposed to be, then some sections were a little more drawn out than was necessary.
Some elements were overdone, and it was unfortunate that this detracted from the obviously well-meaning members of the cast whose job it was to perform such sections. I may have viewed the performance differently from those around me, taking my seat in the audience neither being a fan of any teams portrayed, nor a native of Birmingham, however even for a neutral who is, nonetheless, thoroughly engaged in football’s meaning and culture, Stadium left something to be desired.