Whilst watching the England match last week, I complained one would never pay to see a play during which, like the football, “nothing happened”. To this, a good friend of mine (a football fan) answered “Yes you would. Waiting For Godot. This football match is Waiting For Godot.” Since this conversation, my mind has been working overtime in trying to find the similarities between theatre and football. There are more than you may think.
Of course, they are completely different entities. One is a sport and the other art. Many of you may complain that it is impossible to compare the two, but when we look closer, we can see that in fact they have a lot in common. Indeed, they are likely to have been created for the same reason; entertainment. Theatre was a way of getting whole cities together in Ancient Greece to see various playwrights compete for a coveted prize. Football, at a basic level, was also played in Ancient Greece. Both theatre and football became refined in Medieval England and evolved to be the disciplines which we know today.
After that history lesson we look at other similarities. The main thing here is that they both create huge amounts of drama. Just as we sit biting our nails, heart pounding in the final few minutes of England’s decisive match, we sit in the Circle at the Apollo wondering the fate of Jonny ‘Rooster’ Byron in Jerusalem. Both have an immense power of catharsis, leaving us emotionally drained and waiting eagerly for next time.
The narrative arc of the England team at the present moment could be seen as one of either tragedy or farce. As our hedonistic protagonists run blindly into their final group match we will wonder whether or not the last two matches have been a build up to a tragic ending or simply minor mistakes. The past few weeks have been awash with headlines of various exits and entrances in the England camp, not unlike those which define The Importance of Being Earnest and Noises Off.
In both there is a feeling that we are able to predict the outcome but that once the show has begun it could go any way. Even if we know the story of Hamlet backwards, the best productions will make us believe we have never experienced it before, whilst even Spain is able to lose 1-0 to the perceived underdogs. We can have immense knowledge on the subject, but every preconception can turn out to be wrong.
Naturally, even though the outcome can be the same if two teams meet twice, no two football matches can be identical. In the theatre also, no two nights run in exactly the same way even if the script remains constant. As football players find different opportunities and use different tactics, so actors may vary their thought process and consider alternative ways of working. Thus every performance or match is very different.
Football is obviously embedded deep in the national psyche, but so too are Shakespeare and Wilde. We all remember impressive football matches just as most of the population can quote that immortal line from Hamlet. We can all become experts at certain times too, for while many of us swot up on the offside rule for big tournaments, we also pretend we know which production of Uncle Vanya sticks more closely to Chekhov’s original vision.
The last and most important similarity between the two is the presence of an audience. Without spectators the game or show is meaningless and it is largely for those watching that the ‘players’ in each work. A kick about in the park can be played to one bystander who doesn’t want to play whilst some plays are able to fill large amphitheatres. Without someone watching, each is largely pointless and they lose the reason for why they were first created; to entertain.
So what do you think? Are there any more similarities which you can think of. Or am I, once again, barking up the wrong tree?