Review: Love It If We Beat Them at Live Theatre Newcastle

Review: Love It If We Beat Them at Live Theatre Newcastle

Live Theatre kicks off their new season quite appropriately with a football related play by Rob Ward but that is not the whole story. This carefully layered tale set in the season that Newcastle United snatched defeat from the jaws of victory is beautifully crafted to tell four different stories covering love, loss, loyalty and of course passion for the beautiful game. 

As the audience enters, they are presented with a boozer which is to be seen to be believed and even before the action starts, Michael – a displaced Sunderland Supporter (or Mackem for the locals) is enjoying a solo game of pool before the lights go down and he is joined noisily by fervent Newcastle United supporter, Len, who is full of optimism for the final games of the season in which Newcastle United are on course to lift the Premier League trophy for the first time in their history. You  don’t need to have a good knowledge of the history of the rivalry between Sunderland and Newcastle United but there is a delicious interplay between the older Len and surrogate son Michael in this opening scene, the humour and banter of which may be lost if you don’t know the last time Sunderland won a cup or that Newcastle United won the Fairs Cup in 1969.

The whole play is interspersed with scorelines coming through from the matches Newcastle United played in the final stages of this infamous season cleverly reminding the audience the year in which it is set but also giving some of the actors all a chance to play at being commentators which they do effortlessly. 

Len (David Nellist) is a dyed in the wool Socialist and is fiercely proud of it. He never resists the option to voice his opinion or try to influence his younger friend, Michael (Dean Bone) into his way of thinking. Michael, on the whole, takesthis in good humour. There is a shift in the local political landscape when incumbent MP Ronnie dies suddenly following complications after surgery. Len dares to dream that after years of service to the local council that his time has come. No sooner has he had this thought, Victoria (Eve Tucker) turns up as the prospective and NEC backed New Labour candidate much to Len’s disgust.

Long-suffering wife, Jean (Jessica Johnson) is a feisty character with a heart of gold and she has her own demons to deal with. She is largely ignored by her head-strong husband, Len and despite counselling, the cracks are beginning to show in their marriage from the outset. All of these characters are well-rounded, and their interactions carefully observed to a more than satisfactory conclusion. There are some darker and problematic themes in this play which are dealt withsympathetically and obvious thought has been paid to reflect them appropriately. 

The intimate space in Live Theatre lends itself well to the opening and you genuinely feel as if you are sitting in the pub with the characters as they are having their pint and a game of pool. The lighting is very cleverly designed by Anna Reddyhoff to blend away the bar setting when the scenes transfer to different places such as Seaham seafront, Len’s home and corporate boxes at St James’ Park.

‘Love It’ as the author affectionately calls it, is a beautifully constructed commentary not only on passion for football, strongly held beliefs and the dangers of holding onto them in changing times but there is an over-riding message is one of hope as all the characters have their beliefs and loyalties challenged in one way or another. There are strong political observations about the changing of the guard from Michael Foot to Tony Blair (via Neil Kinnock) which could be mirrored with the recent change of administration from Jeremy Corbyn to the current incumbent at the helm of the Labour Party, Sir Kier Starmer. 

This is a thoroughly absorbing piece of theatre and is well worth seeing whatever your political or football allegiances,and while you may not skip out of the theatre with a smile on your face there is a wonderful message of hope for the future,and you cannot help but feel warmth for all the characters to which Rob Ward has given a genuine and authentic voice. 

Live Theatre has set the bar high for this opening production of its new season and if you want to learn more about this superb play or the upcoming attractions which includes a brand new writing competition then Live Theatre’s website has all the information you need. 

Love It If We Beat Them runs until Saturday 25th March at Live Theatre Newcastle.

Review by Stephen Stokoe.

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