The play is currently on a huge UK tour, taking in venues across the North West in Liverpool, Bolton and Salford. We caught up with writer/producer and former Hollyoaks star John Graham Davies to get the low down on this unique production.
The premise for Beating Berlusconi is one of those 'Did that really happen?' true life stories. When did you realise that it would make a great play and how did it evolve?
I used to go into Mark's cobblers to get keys cut and we used to chat about footie (I'm a Huddersfield Town fan, the club which Bill Shankly left to join Liverpool - the rest, as they say, is bitterness) and after the final I called in to congratulate him and he told me the story. It was obviously an extraordinary yarn. Initially I thought of it as a one-off TV drama, but my focus changed (it's very difficult to get drama made in these Reality TV days, and the setting would have been difficult to reproduce) and I realised it would make a great climax to a story about the city and one-fan's life.
Mark is clearly a fan of the show - what feedback have you had from him?
He comes to most shows and thinks it's brilliant. He's done loads of interviews, including national radio, and is an old hand now. He's become good friends with the actor Paul Duckworth, even though Paul's an Evertonian.
It's far more than a Liverpool show, but how has do you think it will do down outside of the Northwest?
We'll find out. We start on the road this week, but from the way tickets are going, people are dead keen to see it. And, as you say, it isn't just about Liverpool. It's about the politics of the last 25 years as well, what happened to the city, and the love between a fanatical football fan and his long suffering wife.
How does it appeal to audience members who do not follow football?
We had a loads of unsolicited emails after the first tour, and a large majority were from women. Some started along the lines, "I'm not really interested in football, but..." and then went on to say it had been a fantastic night and not what they expected. The show's not only very funny, but the darker moments - Hillsborough, Heysel - are very poignant and that mixture of hilarity with pathos strikes a chord with most people. We also have a remarkable performer in Paul Duckworth, and you can sense audiences responding to his warmth and marvelling at the virtuouso changes: over forty characters in one show.
What made you switch from acting to writing, or have you managed to juggle both careers?
I haven't stopped acting, and I've always written anyway. I wrote a one-man show for myself a few years ago which I toured for a while. But to be honest about it, it's never easy leaving a soap (I was on Hollyoaks for four years) and at the moment, because of the dominance of Reality TV, work in drama is scarce so it's given me more time to write.
What are you working on next?
I've got a couple of writing ideas. One's a calypso musical set in the sixties about a British Bajan soldier, but producing Beating Berlusconi leaves little time at present. The way things are going, the producing is going to continue to take up most of my time as we are being asked about a third tour at the end of this year, and then a run in London.
John Graham Davies was speaking to Glenn Meads
Beating Berlusconi is currently touring the country, including The Lowry (7 March), The Blackpool Grand (14 March) and the Unity at Liverpool (8-10 April).
For further tour dates and more information, please visit the website.