15 March 2023

Love It If We Beat Them @ Live Theatre

The nightmare of Newcastle's 95/96 season still haunts me and every other Newcastle fan. I was sixteen and lived next door to twins who were Man United fans. Basically I gloated to them for a while until things started to go wrong, then I remember them running around in the street with a silver foil trophy and waving it in my face when the dream of the Premiership title died. So I was kind of apprehensive about reliving the trauma again, but at least a lot of time has past. I wasn't as aware of what was going on politically apart from the fact that Tony Blair turned up at my school and the MP for my constituency suddenly became the Prime Minister. 

Luckily Love It If We Beat Them manages not to reopen old wounds too much. The fall from the top of the table takes place in the background, via the actors cleverly assuming the role of football commentators or attending a match in the VIP box. The more prominent battle here is political, with ex-miner, devout Newcastle fan and Labour activist Len (David Nellist) going up against his younger and more progressive rival Victoria (Eve Tucker) for the local seat. Len's long suffering wife Jean (Jessica Johnson) has played second fiddle to his ambitions and ideals for a lifetime, but has managed to keep her sense of humour and provides a lot of laughs. But underneath the banter there's a buried secret that threatens the marriage. 

The playwright speaks about the play 

The set by Alison Ashton is really impressive, with really effective lighting/sound design by Anna Reddyhoff and Matthew Tuckey). The action is entered around a totally realistic bar and snooker table, even down to the Scampi Fries on the wall that I was praying that they would hand out at the interval. There we meet Michael (Dean Bone), an ex-miner/Mackam, Len's faithful mate who joined him on the picket lines and ended up suffering for it. He's roped into Len's plan to damage Victoria, who's also up to her own subterfuge. All the performances are excellent and completely believable; with great chemistry between the characters who can do comedy and tragedy equally well. The powerful script by Rob Ward pulls you in immediately and the dialogue is punchy and gritty, and uses clever techniques such as the football commentary to move events along. 

And the play would be incomplete without that famous Keegan speech, which applies equally to Man United and New Labour in this context but inevitably both battles were unwinnable. Even so, I left feeling invigorated and reminded that it's passion that counts and hope that keeps us going. 

Love It If We Beat Them is on at the Live Theatre until March 25th. Click here to find out more or to book. 

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