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Andrzej Lukowski: Football’s coming home (and to the theatre)

England football team before playing Columbia. Photo: Shutterstock England football team before playing Columbia. Photo: Shutterstock
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I’m sure everyone has noticed this by now, but football’s coming home. And in certain respects the theatre world is not terribly well prepared.

Of course, almost nobody was. England’s dismal performances at Euro 2016 and the FIFA World Cup two years earlier were more or less the nail in the coffin of the hubristic self-belief that had dogged the national side since the 1990s.

Suddenly, though, England are playing scintillating(ish) football. They are winning games. They are in the semis. It is coming home. And it is also being shown at infuriatingly convenient times (unlike 2014 or 2002).

In other words, football and theatre’s kick-off times have been in constant clash with each other since the tournament began, something brought starkly to national attention by a silly story that broke the other day. Irish actor Niall Sheehy was as sick as a parrot with a couple of audience members who were blatantly following the penalty shoot-out between England and Colombia during the performance of Titanic the Musical in which he was starring.

Was their behaviour bad? Yes it was, in a technical sense, but if Maradona taught us one thing, it’s that sometimes bending the rules can pay off.

Because it was my job, I was at the West End press night of The King and I on the evening of that same match. Were there people in the audience following the game on their phones? Absolutely there were. Was I one of them? Not in a 100% literal sense, but I was near to enough people who were that I got the general gist.

The magic of theatre is that it happens live, at a fixed point in time. You can’t pause it or wander off. Sometimes, therefore, events intrude: I saw Hamilton on Broadway on the night of the 2016 US elections. In the second half, there was a lot of nervous cellphone checking as the possibility that Trump may win began to dawn on the audience.

Yes, it’s a bit of a dick move to actively celebrate England’s penalty shoot-out triumph while notionally watching a show, but you know, it is a big deal

It was difficult to really begrudge anybody for it, really. Likewise: yes, it’s a bit of a dick move to actively celebrate England’s long-awaited penalty shoot-out triumph while notionally watching a show, but you know, it is a big deal. And it’s worth pointing out that there are degrees of subtlety that can be deployed when checking the score on one’s electronic mobile device.

Officially, the wisest thing to do is what my friend’s boyfriend has done: return the Hamilton tickets he’s had booked for a year so that he can watch England vs Croatia live and uncut. But not everyone needs that to go that far; some just want to know the score as it develops.

Love of theatre and love of footballing glory are not mutually exclusive, and it’s perfectly possible to both stick to long-held theatre plans and want to know when there’s a goal. I can confirm that Hamilton is an awful lot better than a grindingly dull 1-0 England loss.

It appears likely that because of my job, I will be watching the Open Air Theatre production of As You Like It while England play Croatia tomorrow night (though blessedly the OAT’s late start-time means I can get to see most of the first half).

Am I a bit gutted? Sure. But I’m also looking forward to it. Hopefully it will be a special night, on both counts. And if a high proportion of the audience mysteriously already knows the final score come the interval, then I don’t think that’ll ruin their trip to the Forest of Arden. If football’s coming home – and it DEFINITELY is – then I think most of theatre will be glad to welcome it.

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