Guest Blog: Theatre of Dreams
Over the last few weeks our nation has been collectively spellbound by a drama so increasingly intense and captivating that even those who would usually turn away, were compelled to observe it unfold. There were perhaps a few naysayers, not many, but they were there. Those who, refusing to be swept along on the tide of emotion, scorned and dismissed. It’s just a football match.
And of course they are right. In the same way, Hamlet is just a play. And the Mona Lisa just a picture. This is not glibness. In truth Hamlet does not die, after the curtains close the actor stands up, he (or she) laughs with friends, drinks wine and goes to bed. It is not real in the tangible sense of the word. Just a play, words on a page read aloud. And yet at its essence great art has the capacity to illuminate the soul and spirit of humanity and reflect it back to us with piercing clarity, lighting up our hearts and minds for a few brilliant moments. Maybe even sparking a flame that remains kindled deep within us forever.
It may well be just a play but a play that can do this is a magnificent thing. And a play, even Shakespeare, at its simplest is but action and conflict. What then is a football match if it is not these things? Two opposing forces in conflict with each other, a cast of players - characters with backstories and dreams, pursuing a desire in the face of obstacles. Played out in a theatre, in front of a crowd. A spectator who invests, runs a gamut of human emotion and witnesses adversity, courage, failure, triumph and tragedy. For football, like theatre, reveals to us the depth and spectrum of humanity, the weaknesses and strengths of man.
Who can deny the poignancy of Southgate’s story; a man who, carrying his team and the nation’s expectations, stepped up to take a penalty kick in the semi-final of Euro 96 and missed. Succumbing to failure he offered himself up as the latest sacrificial lamb on the altar of English disappointment. For twenty six years he toiled under the weight of a personal burden of guilt, taunted by the haunting ghosts of failures past. But though the load was heavy, he did not fall or give in. He accepted his plight with grace and humour. With renewed focus and serious endeavour he rose once again to shoulder the responsibility for a new team, going into battle. And once again fate threw penalties in his path. The question hung in the night air, would this be redemption or condemnation? Could his men summon up a strength of spirit as yet unseen?
His faith was unwavering as he watched them one by one confidently step up. And as Pickford saved and Dier scored, it was all over. Success. In this instant he cast off the shroud of failure and washed the altar clean, baptising the whole country and finally laying to rest the long-tortured souls. What is more, while the jubilant scenes played out, for him there was no wild revelry or drawn out merrymaking, as well there might have been. No, he sought instead to comfort those who minutes before had been his foe. When for a moment, our thoughts alight upon this occasion, we might, for a fleeting second allow ourselves to contemplate
‘What a piece of work is a man! How noble in reason, how infinite in faculty! In form and moving how express and admirable! In action, how like an angel, in apprehension how like a God!’
Hamlet, Act II, Scene II
And maybe we take our leave of this short lived mania but with a little more pride in our heart, self belief in our souls and purpose in our stride. Buoyed by the strength and determination of character witnessed in others, we might search and find that it lies within ourselves as well. Or perhaps not. It is just football after all.
Words by Abi Standing.
Photography © Matt Humphrey / Curtain Call - 'Bend It Like Beckham', Phoenix Theatre, London 2016.
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