It’s the height of the 1984 football season. Football hooliganism is rife, as is the basis for Marching on Together, a new script Yorkshire playwright Adam Hughes, confronting hooliganism’s often misunderstood and ignored past.
Being the only British play to be shortlisted for the Burbage Prize 2014, Hughes’ strong interest in one of the bloodiest seasons in UK football history is clearly shown in the piece. “Football hooliganism is always something that has fascinated me,” Hughes writes, “It’s this idea of ‘us versus them’ and defending your own territory that really intrigued me and I wanted to write a play that moved away from the physical violence and explored this mentality.” To do this, Hughes has carefully selected an intriguing subject for the play: ex-leader of the infamous Service Crew, Macca. He says that the dwindling status of the Service Crew reflects the changing priorities of its older members, and that it’s these transitions not only within the world of hooliganism, but the larger communities, “which the play wants to explore”.
After the play’s February run at the Old Red Lion Theatre, London, it will be shown in unconventional spaces across Leeds, where the play is set, including schools and community centres. With many of these performances aimed at the younger generation, I was wondering what Hughes wants to say to those who may not have witnessed these tragically violent games:
“I think it’s important for a younger generation of not only football fans but theatre goers and people living in the region to look at the events from 30 years ago and think about how these affected their communities. During the miners’ strike, the shape of numerous towns changed overnight and a lot of these places are still feeling the effects to this very day. With football hooliganism during this time, many who partook in the violence (especially the younger crowd) were using match days as a further means to vent their frustration. Rather than chastise this behaviour and resign it to the darkest days of Thatcher’s era as prime minister, we should address these issues and ask why did people behave the way they did.”
As many football fans know, security at stadiums today is much stringent than it was 30 years ago, leading to a shift in violence further afield than football grounds. With this in mind, I asked if the mentalities of those involved in hooliganism is representative of society today in general and learned about the deeper meanings of the play. Hughes tells me that when you strip back the themes of football and associated violence, the play has one main idea: identity, synonymous with a sense of belonging, something that Hughes feels that many of the youth today are denied. “Unfortunately, particularly when you look youth unemployment figures for instance, many people leaving education are facing an immediate uphill battle feeling that they have very few options”, a very pressing statement as around 750,000 young people aged between 16 and 24 are unemployed according to the latest statistics, “what the play is trying to say is that everyone in life deserves a chance and that it’s only when people feel they have no other options that they resort to things they wouldn’t normally”.
As part of the interview, I also got chance to talk to Hughes about writing for both the stage and screen. In his experience, he has found that writing for the two mediums can be very different.
“Writing for the stage is much more abstract. I always get told I write too many stage directions and character emotions (something which directors hate by the way!) so I think writing for theatre is all about the dialogue, implication of what you are writing, and its subtext. Writing for the screen is the flipside of that as it is all about description, storytelling and setting the mood. You can write pages purely of scene description whereas in a play this can be summarised with one line.”
Hughes also tells me that screenplays require far more exposition, and that you also have the ability to do this through various scenes, something not possible with the constraints of theatre, where he says that it is important to make the action the focus, and go straight to it.
No matter how good your script or screenplay is, though, you need to get it out there. Hughes tells me that the most important part of getting a piece noticed is to make sure that it’s fully refined: “I think you should get people who you trust to read and feedback on your work as this will not only strengthen the piece but hopefully provide you with a wider perspective”. He also thinks that a good team is paramount, citing Joshua McTaggart, Director of Marching on Together for pushing him to fully explore the characters and situations, as well as Helena Doughty and the BackHere! Theatre Company for collecting a strong creative team.
Finally, I asked Hughes if awards such as the Kenneth Branagh Drama Award have helped him to focus on his writing style, and he thinks that they have given him an identity as a writer. “For me, it has helped to establish some sort of voice and helped me realise what type of stories I want to tell”, says Hughes, going on to tell me that there were three very different scripts winning the Kenneth Branagh Award, showing him that he shouldn’t try and force writing to suit a certain demographic or purpose, but to focus on stories important to himself that engage as many people as possible. “This is something I really hope we can achieve with Marching On Together”.
Marching on Together is at the Old Red Lion Theatre 3 – 28 February. For more information see here.