Watching Beating Berlusconi by John Graham Davies one is reminded in many ways of Nick Hornby’s seminal Fever Pitch. In both plays the protagonist is a football-fanatic, letting relationships and all other considerations slip in pursuit of attending that one, soul-defining earth-moving match. But the Davies’ play has a broader canvas.
It’s the story of Liverpudlian fan Kenny Norman whose life and adventures before, during and after the 2003 European Cup final in Istanbul are whirled before us by Paul Duckworth, an actor with a gift for funny faces, awkward poses and a barrage of different voices.
We meet (on screen) his family, including long-suffering wife Marie, friends (of whom one is killed fighting in Afghanistan and another is a drug-dealer), fellow fans and – of course – the Italian prime minister of the title.
We are also taken on a tour of Liverpool’s history and its famously acerbic attitude towards those who come in from London (or even from cross the Mersey) in order to attempt to impose sanctions and cultures alien to the majority of the city’s inhabitants.
This history includes – besides unemployment and housing problems – the Toxteth riots, the Heysel and Hillsborough stadia tragedies, the Garden Festival and the year as European City of Culture. As Kenny says: “supporting a team is genetic”. That's as good an explanation for non-football fans as any.
How Kenny (who’s based on real-life fan Mark Radley) finds himself in the directors’ box, quaffing champagne and nibbling on salmon is the climax of the story. I am sure that those people who (unlike me) know one end of a football pitch and one over-priced player from another will enjoy it all even more. But for anyone interested in sheer theatrical skill allied to an engaging personality, then Duckworth’s your goal-scoring striker.