The spirit of the game. 14 April 2011

Summer officially started last week with the beginning of the English cricket season, but why is there such a cross-over between cricket fans and playwrights? 


Samuel Beckett is the only Nobel laureate also to have played first-class cricket. He took two catches in two games for Dublin University against Northants in 1926. Harold Pinter was voluble on his love for the game, and there’s a famous photograph of him in the nets, following through a cover drive (pictured). Richard Bean wrote a whole play about it a couple of years ago and, I believe, still turns his arm over for a team of theatre types every summer.

Not to mention other self confessed cricket nuts Tom Stoppard, Simon Gray, Peter Tinniswood, David Hare, Ronald Harwood and Dennis Potter (huge hat-tip here to Frank Keating in The Guardian)

And it can only be a matter of time before someone commissions Charlie Shreck – The Musical.

But I have often wondered why this link should occur.

In the great Venn diagram of playwrights and sporting interests, for example, there are overlaps with football (Roy Williams springs to mind) and occasionally rugby (David Storey, John Godber), but why so much cricket? It’s hardly representative of the population as a whole.

In what other sector would you struggle to name half a dozen football fans, but easily select a competent pair of opening batsmen and a bowler to torment them?

Here’s my theory – theatre thrives on subtext. On the smaller battles played out under cover of bigger ones. The individual’s struggles and triumphs in a larger world.

Well, there is no better game to illustrate the importance of subtext, personal conflict and internal struggles within a broader contest than cricket.

In no other sport is the individual so exposed, yet so reliant on his team-mates. This can hardly be an unfamiliar situation to actors in a large company.

In no other sport is an individual constrained to hide intense feelings of competition beneath such polite displays of sportsmanship. A talented batsman chatting to a threatening bowler between overs is scarcely less subtly duplicitous than a Rattigan hero at a cocktail party.

And any regular theatregoer can relate to the feeling of sitting down to a two-hour session of play only to realise after ten minutes that nothing of any note is going to happen and that everyone’s time is being wasted.

At least in cricket the players have the decency in such circumstances to call it a draw and let everyone go home early – a mercy sadly not afforded to playgoers.

Stephen Pidcock, Publicist, The Corner Shop PR

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