It is not for one night, but for nine, that the perfectly chosen Liverpool Empire has become the Istanbul of four years ago. Reliving that rollercoaster ride of a match, Nicky Allt’s latest production is a theatrical score for any devoted LFC fan.
Famously Bill Shankly commented that "Some people believe football is a matter of life and death... I can assure you, it is much, much more than that." Former Brookside star, John McArdle and stand-up comedian John Bishop prove the accuracy of this statement as their characters, Gerry and Tommy, go to drastic and life-risking lengths to secure a place in the Ataturk Stadium in May 2005. Hoping Hitler’s cufflinks will bring them adequate funding for the match, the comic duo are faced with many obstacles (many of which are based on true accounts) that challenge their commitment to their team.
The atmosphere of the building is electric and if it wasn’t for the beautiful interior you may well mistake yourself for being in the middle of a football stadium. With burgers being sold pre-performance and hundreds of excited Scouse supporters filling seats, this is no conventional theatrical experience.
Rather, the gratification of the entire show arises from the fans' ability to personally identify with the characters treading the boards. McArdle and Bishop, along with James Spofforth and Stephen Fletcher, who are playing their sons, naturally and humorously advocate the banter of boys before, during and after a match. Pranks, alcohol and plenty of passion (in more ways than one!) - you name it, it’s there!
Often ‘in-jokes’ and footy references, not to mention a repetitive rendition of the song "One Night In Istanbul - Horse With No Name", lead to an eruption of applause. However, the most unbelievable and admirable moment is saved till the very end. Watching a big screen that covers half the stage, fans indulge in the greatest rapport between performers and audience that I have only ever witnessed in a musical theatre production.
Unfortunately witty lines are frequently lost, the acoustics being the production’s main downfall.
Despite having the semblance of storyline, the production is better looked upon as an ode rather than a play. Plot and emotions are predictable, lacking the shock factor of a typical show. Yet, if you live, breathe and sleep football, and if, for males, the bird on your logo is as important as the bird on your arm, then you will leave the auditorium uplifted, nostalgic and ultimately proud to be a Red.
- Rebecca Cohen