I loathe football. It’s the type of sport which brings back chilling reminders of being forced to kick a ball up and down a patch of grass at school in the middle of winter when my desires were clearly in the warmth of the drama department. Let’s face it, football isn’t for everyone, but it seems to get the nation rattled up no end. Total Football by Ridiculusmus looks at how 500 million citizens each year sweat blood and tears over this game. Framed within having to put together the best football team to represent Team GB in the 2012 Olympics, Ridiculusmus presents a farcical two-hander that is both absurd and utterly ridiculous as a performance in the Barbican Pit Theatre.
Having been created, written and performed by Jon Haynes and David Woods, there is a distinct quality to Total Theatre that allows it to be thrown around, just as in the game in question. Where the players on the pitch might be passing the ball between themselves, Haynes and Woods reflect this motion; their dialogue acts as the dynamic of the game itself. Total Football goes a long way to create a false sense of what football does for a nation, which is executed in Haynes and Wood’s attempt at putting together Team GB when Scotland, Wales and Ireland pull out from allowing anyone from their country to participate. Just like the long-running politics between nations, Great Britain is divided and so will this team be.
As performers, Haynes and Woods have a difficult task in keeping the dialogue and pace afoot. Their continual swapping of characters and situations means that you have to invest in them as performers and characters otherwise you’ll be left behind. It is clear that both Haynes and Woods are excellent performers, they have brilliant stage presences, and their abilities to swap characters and voices without changing out of their suit costumes is commendable. However, I struggled to engage with them, and, although this is of course a purely personal take, it affected my overall experience of the show. It is only after reflecting on some of the bigger issues surrounding the piece that I can marvel at how much Ridiculusmus as a company has managed to squeeze into Total Footnall whilst doing so in a completely absurd manner.
A burning questions has to be if Total Football is enjoyable for those people, like me, who dislike the sport? For the most part, yes. Ridiculusmus is careful to not make Total Football only for those who love the sport. There are great comical moments to be had in the rambling explanations of the off-side rule, or in describing certain players and their tactics. The show goes beyond just a look at football as a sport and into the ideas of nationalism and how we can celebrate being British today. This is wonderfully contrasted with the character of an Alabanian cleaner who is attempting to gain citizenship in the UK, learning songs and phrases which, even to someone born and raised in this country, seem absurd. Total Football asks a lot of questions about who we are, probing at the notions of being British whilst at the same time subtly telling us that our obsession with football is so trivial that it is ultimately just as farcical as the idea of kicking a ball up and down some grass as entertainment.
By the end of Total Football it is not so much about the game, but rather how government bodies try to understand the nature of society, our happiness and engagement with sporting events. Can a team of British players in the football section of the Olympics really lift a society’s spirits, bringing out prosperity and happiness? Well, no, but it can for those that truly invest. Just like theatre as a method of entertainment, it can offer us highs and lows, but if it was completely removed from society it wouldn’t cause the downfall of England.
Just like Ridiculusmus tells us that football fanaticism can be utterly controlling and absurd to influence us so much, so can Total Football as a piece of theatre. Haynes and Woods present it as a bewildering farce, and I am left feeling that that’s all it is – a laugh, lifting the lid on the way our society works. Yet it doesn’t capture my spirit, it’s clearly not for me, and this is partly due to the topic. There might be some great performances but Total Football doesn’t quite score a winning game for me.
Total Football is playing at the Barbican until 18th June. For more information and tickets, see the website here.