The opening of the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow next month has
inspired a welter of extra-curricular artistic activity. One of the
first out of the traps is Sports Day, a huge community show at the
city's Citizens Theatre, which features a compendium of new short
pieces penned by major Scottish writers, including Peter Arnott, Linda
McLean, Douglas Maxwell and Julia Taudevin, all based around a school
sports day. These will be accompanied by a series of new songs written
by equally major song-writers and musicians such as Vaselines vocalist
Eugene Kelly, Sparrow and the Workshop's Jill O'Sullivan, John Kielty
and Claire McKenzie. All this will be linked by a series of scenes
featuring River City star Joyce Falconer as the school's janitor.
For anyone studying the form, the stats go like this. Sixty
non-professional performers drawn from assorted Citizens-based
community groups will perform some seventeen new plays accompanied by
twelve brand new songs. With only four weeks rehearsal to play with,
putting Sports Day together has been something of a Herculean task.
“It's a lot of stuff,” says Citizens associate director Guy Hollands,
who oversees the theatre's Citizens Learning community arm, and is
co-directing Sports Day with the theatre's Community Drama Director,
Neil Packham. “It obviously started out as a response to the
Commonwealth Games, but I also wanted an opportunity to bring together
all of the different groups that already exist in the building, and to
try and get them to inter-mingle somehow, rather than just going away
after their classes.
“I originally wanted Sports Day to be a revue-style piece, so I emailed
a load of writers and asked them if they'd be interested in writing a
piece about a school sports day, which is something people tend to have
fairly distinct memories of in one way or another. Everyone seemed to
have a story about it, both positively and negatively, and I was quite
surprised to see what came back.”
With assorted responses to Hollands' brief looking variously at
preparations for the day to the races themselves, a rough chronology
developed, that saw teachers, parents and pupil athletes all in the
frame. One play even looks at the plight of a family trying to raise
money for a new pair of training shoes in order for their child to
participate in the day.
“We wanted Sports Day to be largely celebratory,” Hollands points out,
“and to celebrate the power of community spirit in sport. Douglas
Maxwell's piece is a beautiful short play, and is probably the most
hard-hitting of them all, but on the whole we wanted to keep things
Such a spirit of celebration will almost certainly be enlivened by the
presence of Falconer, whose deadpan Doric tones are best known to
viewers of River City from her long stint as Roisin Henderson.
“We've worked with Joyce before,” says Hollands, “and we knew she was
right for this part. She's someone who everyone knows from seeing her
in River City, and is totally the right kind of person for the role.”
While there will be some interaction between Falconer's janitor and a
not entirely sympathetic head teacher, the majority of her scenes will
see her onstage alone. A mean accordion player, Falconer will also take
part in the show's musical interludes.
These were initially co-ordinated by theatre composer and former member
of the group, Zoey Van Goey, MJ McCarthy, and will be performed by the
cast alongside a live band.
“One song was written especially for Joyce,” says Hollands, “but it's
been an interesting process, and I think we discovered that writing a
song perhaps needs more time invested in it than we originally thought.
For the artists who come from the indie world, it's a very different
thing for them to be doing, because they have to be songs written to be
sung in unison. All three of those songs have a really unique take on
things, and really fit in well with the whole tone of the piece.”
While scheduling rehearsals for Sports Day has been something of a
logistical nightmare, with proceedings being scheduled around the
performers day jobs and other commitments, it has been the show's
musical aspects that has united the company.
“It's really enjoyable to sing together,” Hollands observes, “and that
all ties in with the explosion of community choirs. Working on Sports
Day, I've witnessed it myself how much you can bond through singing.
That's the only time in rehearsals we've had the full company together,
and that has become a really important part of the process. The mood in
the room when everyone gets together like that is just electric.”
If the music of Sports Day has acted as a unifying force, there is an
even bigger message that comes from the theme of sport itself.
“I believe in sport,” says Hollands. “Personally I think art and sport
are very similar in lots of relative ways. There's a very obvious sense
of play in both art and sport, but there are also similarities in terms
of well-being and giving people the opportunity to achieve something,
and to express themselves in some way.”
Given how the performers in Sports Day have come from several different
groups as well as the subject of the piece, one wonders whether any
sense of competitive rivalry has crept into proceedings. Hollands,
however, suggests team work has been paramount throughout rehearsals.
“We want to achieve the highest quality production we can,” he says,
“and for that to happen people have got to work together. A major part
of Sports Day is about personal growth and personal expression, and for
the Citizens it's making an important statement about the value of
community work, and where we place it in our portfolio.”
Whatever the result of Sports Day, then, it's the taking part that
Sports Day, Citizens Theatre, Glasgow, June 4-7.
This Sporting Life – Sport onstage
The Changing Room - David Storey
Storey's look at life among a semi-pro rugby team before, during and
after a game opened at the Royal Court Theatre in 1971 in a production
by Lindsay Anderson, and was revived by Michael Rudman in 1996 as part
of a Royal Court classics season.
Tuebrook Tanzi – Clare Luckham
Luckham's 1978 feminist play about a young woman's desire to be a
wrestler was performed in an actual wrestling ring, with the cast
hurling each other around over a series of rounds. Originally known as
Tuebrook Tanzi – The Venus Flytrap, the play toured Liverpool clubs,
and was filmed by the BBC in front of a live wrestling audience. As
Trafford Tanzi, the play was revived at Edinburgh's Traverse Theatre,
while later productions starred Toyah Wilcox and, in America, Blondie's
Debbie Harry and comedian Andy Kaufman.
Up 'n' Under – John Godber
Rugby again featured in Godber's play, first produced by Hull Truck in
1984, which looked at a ramshackle pub team who are turned into
champions by a female trainer. The play picked up an Olivier award for
best new play, and inspired a sequel, Up 'n' Under 2, as well as a film
version in 1998 starring Neil Morrissey.
The Celtic Story/The Rangers Story/We Are The Hibees
There were a spate of popular football plays several years ago, which
played to packed houses of football fans, who cheered on the history of
their particular team told through a series of iconic moments.
The Herald, June 3rd 2014