WITHOUT WISHING to compromise anybody’s patriotism, our spectacular flame-out from Euro 2012 must have come as a relief to at least one group.
As the nation’s cherished dream of being gloriously eliminated in the quarter finals was replaced by the realisation that we are – as a people – better singers than footballers, theatre producers could be forgiven for blowing the cobwebs from their coffers and waiting for supporters to return to their field of drama.
The displays in Poland may have been beyond dismal, but everyone watched them. RTÉ recorded the highest viewership for a sporting event in a decade on the night of the Spain match, when some theatres were forced to cancel their performances. Nobody was coming. When it comes to evening drama, sport and theatre can seem like two bitterly opposing sides.
It’s not always like that. In fact, theatre and football have often played for the same team. Paul Mercier’s 1986 play, Studs, for instance, mined the drama of a shambolic football team slowly recovering from a losing streak under new management (yeah, tell me about it). It brought new audiences into the theatre and used the physical verve of sport to energise its stagecraft. So, when Studs was revived in 2002 to coincide with the World Cup, why did it tank so badly?
Staging a sporting drama in the middle of a sporting tournament makes sense on paper – if you like one, you’ll like the other – but in reality that’s a little like wondering if the great cultural similarities between Spain and Ireland might have resulted in a friendly draw. Instead, it was a walkover. It didn’t help the production’s fortunes that our misadventure in Saipan had also turned football into a bad news story.
However, three years later, in the same theatre, a musical based on that national psychodrama, I, Keano, was a huge hit. It’s a funny old game.
If the theatre does better without direct competition, it also seems more successful at dramatising defeat. John Breen’s Alone It Stands, a brilliantly physical comic tribute to Munster’s victory over the All Blacks in 1978, is an obvious exception. But the quieter dramas of Dermot Bolger’s In High Germany and The Parting Glass, poignant depictions of the lives of exiled supporters and the triumph of hope over experience, suggest that, at least off the pitch, Ireland does better with defensive play.
There is, however, always more complexity, more substance, more drama, more myth, in a heroic defeat. Scenes in the American film version of Nick Hornby’s Fever Pitch had to be reshot following the Boston Red Sox’ historic World Series win. (The team had been on a legendary losing streak.)
From the massed chorus of The Fields of Athenry drowning out Spanish cheers in Gdansk, to our theatre’s portraits of national despair and personal consolation, we have scored that point with resounding success. We’re very good losers.