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Socialist Review, June 1994

Frank Ormston


Songs from the terraces


From Socialist Review, No. 176, June 1994.
Copyright © Socialist Review.
Copied with thanks from the Socialist Review Archive.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


Playing Away
Opera North

This new opera was met with hostility, even boos and shouts of ‘Rubbish!’ at the preview in Leeds last month.

It is the story of footballer Terry Bond and his pop star wife L.A. Lola. Terry’s team are playing in the European Cup Final. It should be the highlight of his career, but he is pursued by the sinister figure of The Great Referee, and his career and marriage come crashing down around him.

Benedict Mason and Howard Brenton have bravely chosen a contemporary setting for their opera. They use it to good effect as they examine the exploitation which runs through football, pop and, by analogy, opera as well. ‘Just get the job done, just get the song sung,’ Lola tells Terry.

No punches are pulled as Mason’s accessible music complements Brenton’s realistic words. Songs from the terraces and the recording studio mingle to show us a world where Lola can sing, ‘Show us your tits; that’s love in a democracy,’ but one where Terry literally and beautifully dances with the ball.

’Why are English fans so primitive?’ asks the Japanese owner of Terry’s team. ‘It’s a primitive world, old son,’ responds the manager. There is much beauty in football, pop and opera, but in a world where capitalism makes a commodity out of beauty, there must also be greed, corruption and exploitation.

Playing Away may or may not turn out to be an enduring opera; but at the very least Mason and Brenton deserve credit for refusing to play safe. As director Paul Daniel has commented, ‘Politics has long been the domain of sport but ... perhaps it’s the turn of opera again.’

This is a marvellous opera, deserving a wider audience than it is likely to get. Football fans and socialists alike will find it challenging and worthy of tears and laughter.

Playing Away will be touring to Leeds, Hull, Nottingham and Manchester during June

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