Writers: David Woods&Jon Haynes
Reviewer: Joan Phillips
Created and written by the performers, the Ridiculusmus theatre company’s production of Total Football is a mischievous commentary on the nation’s obsession with football and a satirical look at its part in our personal and national identities.
The play starts with an ironic snapshot of the multinational aspects of every day life in modern Britain. The absorption of many cultures into the mainstream through immigration, imported TV, borrowed cuisine, global trade, fashion and even the furniture we sit on, has produced the exciting melting pot we live in today. But it leaves the serious question of what it means to be British and how we maintain social cohesion in a pluralistic, but sometimes confused, society.
The play takes a witty but critical look at bureaucratic efforts to define and promote a sense of nationhood; for instance, through citizenship exams or exploiting the excitement following this year’s Olympics. But the company wryly makes the point that for many people our common identity is all there in the culture surrounding the national football team. The language and behaviour when people talk about the beautiful game is the fertile ground for how people can relate and feel connected. Even a football obsessed, heavily accented, recent immigrant has more in common with an average Britain than an Oxford educated, senior civil servant who can’t understand the offside rule.
But the writers also raise some uncomfortable questions. It may be that football is watched by 500 million people and, as Sepp Blatter said, “even an unborn child is kicking,” but those not engaged in football may easily feel alienated, even irrelevant, and shockingly, in this play at least, possibly sterile. These people may feel more outside British society than a recently arrived cleaner from an old enemy, Argentina. A quick glance at the nation’s favourite pastime (not football, but fishing) is shown to be deficient in providing the language for mutual understanding and building essential emotional connections. And then, what hope for those not interested in any sport?
Superbly acted by David Woods and Jon Haynes, this production has so many great aspects to it. The commentary, humour, quotes, anecdotes and great performances are all there, but it does feel the balance is more deadly serious than satirically comic. A bit like the England football team, the sum of all the parts doesn’t quite match the sparkle and inspiration of the individual elements, but at times it comes very close.