By Far the Greatest Team, at The Lowry: Football for the stage

Kevin Bourke

Four stories about Manchester’s two great football teams combine for a play that’s like being on a pitch.

For millions of people around the world, Manchester is most recognisable for its two football teams, United and City – and within the city itself, there’s been fierce rivalry between the fans for many years. Now, the Manchester Theatre Award-winning Monkeywood Theatre production company are staging the world premiere of By Far The Greatest Team; four new Manchester stories by four outstanding Manchester writers exploring and celebrating what it means to be a football fan in Manchester.

The production will see The Lowry’s Quays theatre transformed into a football stadium, recreating the atmosphere of a match day in the city, as writers Sarah McDonald Hughes, Lindsay Williams, Ian Kershaw, and Andrew Sheridan tell four new stories about Manchester City, Manchester United, identity, community and belonging, trying to get to the heart of why the beautiful game has such an impact on people’s lives – season after season.

The Quays theatre will be transformed into a football stadium, recreating the atmosphere of match day

“We’re trying to look at what being a football fan means to people, to get past all the distractions that surround the game – especially these days – to the purity of what if feels like to be a fan,” Sarah McDonald Hughes tells us. “Outside of the stadium it can be difficult to remember what it feels like, but when you’re watching a match it really, really matters.”

Andrew Sheridan explains further: “when we each wrote the pieces, we did it quite separately and didn’t really know what the other writers were going to write. But what emerged when we read them was that, yes, they were all about football, but above that they were all about relationships and people and how that sits within that world of being a football fan. Without, hopefully, sounding too wanky, they’re about being human.”

Through the stories themselves, the structure of the evening reflects the ebb and flow of a match, complete with a half-time (otherwise known as the interval). But McDonald Hughes emphasises the importance of getting football fans and non-football fans “to come and sit together, experiencing the same thing in the same room, as you would at a match.”

There’s a bigger ambition behind this, too. “Behind all our work as Monkeywood, but specifically with this, is the thought that we want people who don’t think theatre is for them to come and see it,” she says. “Theatre needs to change, and to allow audiences to change.” And, well, a play about football might be just the way to do it.

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