Football’s biggest trophy, Adolf Hitler’s cufflinks, two Turkish thieves and a stashed bag of cash form the plot to a new play by Scouser Nicky Allt, who talks exclusively to Michael Hunt about his latest work and revitalising populist theatre in Liverpool.

Inspired by Liverpool Football Club’s heroics in the European Champions League final in Istanbul in 2005, the playwright set about writing a play a year later revolving around the historic win and just four drafts later One Night in Istanbul was done.

Comedian John Bishop and former Brookside actor John McArdle have been confirmed as its two central characters.

Tom, played by Bishop, and Gerry (McArdle), based on two known supporters to LFC’s travelling fraternity, head to Istanbul to see their beloved Liverpool take on Italian champions AC Milan. 

“It’s great to have these two in the show,” Allt enthuses. “John Bishop has never really acted before, he’s been in a pantomime, but he wants to act and we know he’s dead funny.

“John McArdle hasn’t been in anything on stage in Liverpool for a long time. He loved the script and we’re pleased to have someone with his experience in the play.”

In order to pay for their trip, Tom and Gerry have to find the Grand Bazaar to sell Adolf Hitler’s cufflinks, which, Allt informs, is based on a true story.

“In 1981 Adolf Hitler’s cufflinks were on show in a museum in Munich and two supporters left the Bierkeller and walked over and took them,” he says. “They’ve been under floor boards in Huyton for twenty odd years now and that’s a fact.”

This is a play, Allt says, inspired by many events off the pitch as much as those on it. As Liverpool’s fight back unfolds, from being 3-0 down to levelling 3-3 after ninety minutes and winning famously by penalties in the Ataturk Stadium, Allt’s central characters recall their own and Liverpool’s past European conquests while all the time dreaming of that fifth big win that’ll mean the ‘Big Ears’ cup is for keeps.

An all Liverpool cast has been approached for the other main parts, with Tom and Gerry’s sons, Jamie and Joseph, being played by James Spofforth, who appeared in Stags and Hens, and ex-Brookside actor Steven Fletcher respectively.

The five lead roles, an important number now etched in LFC history, will be completed by a female role Allt mentions. Christine Tremarco, off BBC drama Waterloo Road, has been approached for the part of the Turkish hotel cleaner Adalet.

As circumstances unravel in this football fairytale - leading to a case of mistaken identity over some stolen cash - the audience can expect, like that famous May night, some surprises thrown in for good measure.

Songs including Johnny Cash’s "Ring of Fire" and "A Horse With No Name" by the band America also feature in the production.

It’s Allt’s first show since the hugely successful ‘Brick up the Mersey Tunnels’, he co-wrote with his friend and poet Dave Kirby, and is being staged by a new production company he’s set up with Emile Coleman and Frank Bentley.

The philosophy being installed by Allt and Bang on Top Productions is about giving new talent an opportunity. Allt explains: “We always had the idea of trying to do it different and give different people a chance.”

“Bang On Top Productions was created and set up from the success of my book The Boys From the Mersey, which currently has sold 40,000 copies, and Brick Up.

“Emile, some might remember, appeared in the BBC reality TV show Million Dollar Traders, and he is a lecturer at Liverpool Community College in the city centre.

“The whole show is going through the college. All the students are working on it and one of them is going to win a part which is brilliant.

“There are two Turkish thieves at the start and end of the play as well as two Turkish policemen.”

Interestingly, the programme for One Night in Istanbul will be full of anecdotes from actual LFC supporters about the reds’ triumph in Istanbul. Allt adds: “A guy from Kirkby told me his family took his dads’ ashes to the final and threw his ashes up in the air when Jerzy Dudek saved the penalty!

“But I’ve been getting really crazy stories and it’s now about whittling it down to the craziest! Emile’s students are picking the best stories and about a month or two before the production we should have them all together, so people can still send in any they have to a website we’ve set up or to the Empire theatre.”

47-year-old Allt confesses growing up in Liverpool’s working class Kirkby area made a move into the world of writing far from conventional. His passion for wanting to succeed, however, made him sell his house, its entire contents (including the toaster!) and emigrating with his wife and family, daughters Nikita, Caitlin-Rose, and son Joseph, to America.

His experience in the states, together with his time working on building sites in South Africa and Germany, to travelling all over Europe to watch Liverpool FC fuelled with his sharp Scouse wit, have all contributed to making him a major voice in populist theatre and novel writing within his home city.

He says: “I got my character from bunking boats, trains and planes to see Liverpool play football matches. I don’t regret it because it’s helped me bring real stories and real people into theatres and books.”

Further afield, interest is already being shown in One Night in Istanbul by television production companies and theatres in Dublin and Oslo, two cities with a large contingent of LFC fans, so can audiences expect a follow up to this latest work?

Laughing as he considers an answer to the question, Allt categorically states: “I’m not going to write too many football stories after this, but you can never say never and if Liverpool won the final this year it could be Tommy goes to Rome!”

*One Night in Istanbul appears at the Liverpool Empire 9-18 July. For further information visit the official website soon to be launched at www.onenightinistanbul.com

*Photographs taken by Dave Evans