Football and theatre are two very distinct worlds. Luckily both can be found in great abundance in the city of Manchester. Now Contact has created a ground-breaking piece of performance that asks an important question: how can theatre and football work together to showcase the passion behind both?
At Contact Theatre, a cast of Manchester City fans are performing We’re Not Really Here: A Football Opera. The fabulous diversity of fans presented here is not purely a diversity of age and appearance, but also attitude.
Each of the ensemble members brings with them a personal drive to attend these matches and a harmonious but individual style of match conduct. This is revealed onstage as a stand of people behave just as they would if they were watching a thrilling Manchester City game.
These now-performers are at no point phased that they are really being viewed by an audience. In fact, this drives them to project their energy past the audience and to their imagined playing field.
Peaks and troughs in the piece are provided by milestones such as goal scoring and half time — things even non-football fans will recognize. And within the structure of the gameplay, the cast allow us to learn about them personally. Backstories range from funny to endearing, it feels authentic and the audience really gets to know some of the faces: meaning we can always spot a friendly face.
What is really impressive is the energy of the ensemble. Waves of excitement and devastation ripple across the stand of people: capturing the attention of the audience and never letting it go. They are all in perfect synch — never once did a performer look lost within the action.
Just as they would within a real match the fans all fed off each other as they seamlessly moved from moment to moment — you get the feeling if one person decided Man City were going to get the goal, the other performers would have similarly followed suit.
This piece is less an opera and more of a celebration. Songs come near the end and are the perfect way to bring the story to a head. Although, that is not to say the performers are lacking singing ability — there are some beautiful voices that live up to the operatic description.
Thankfully we can breathe a sigh of relief — it does not keep an audience at arm’s length the same way some opera has traditionally done. The history of the fans and the city really are put out for all to see. One very poignant part is a moment of silence for the recent Manchester bombings — something felt in unity across the city, no matter where your passions lie.
This piece has truly succeeded. Contact really has proved that there is theatricality to be found in football. Alongside emotion, humour, and most of all, entertainment.