For millions of diehard fans, the football pitch is a theatre of dreams. Every week, a ninety minute drama is played out in stadiums across the country, ending in sweet victory for some, and bitter tragedy for others. Fifty years after it first hit the stage, a performance of Zigger Zagger by the National Youth Theatre was as powerful and entertaining as ever.
The play was punctuated with regular raucous, screaming football chants by the fifty strong cast. They were a sea of red and white hats and scarves, singing their hearts out. From the audience’s perspective, it was as if they were watching these displays of fanaticism from the pitch. The characters referred to their beloved ‘City’ throughout the show, but it was never specified which city. This gave Zigger, which is about (be it mindless) passion and dedication, a universal appeal.
There are many forces vying for control of the main character, Harry Philton’s mind. Zigger, the charismatic leader of the City fans, was played by Teddy Robson. He put in a compelling performance, convincingly embodying the role of someone who loves to fight and belong to a tribe. He offers Harry something bigger than himself to believe in, imploring him to live a life free of responsibility, travelling the country to support his club and living for the thrill of the next game.
Harry’s mother is a woman of loose morals. The audience roared with laughter when she tried to pass off her many male visitors as his long lost uncles. Her sister’s husband Les, played by Ebe Bamgboye, tells Harry time and again to “learn a trade”. Bamgboye perfectly captured the character of a ‘steady eddy’, content with domestic pursuits like DIY and listening to the Proms. There were violent and tumultuous scenes, depicting City clashes with teams like West Ham. You got the sense that Harry’s inner life was in turmoil too, with all the contradictory influences pushing and pulling on it.
Harry wants to join the army but is told he isn’t physically fit enough. This is the genesis of his anti establishment attitude. In one scene, he encounters some protesters demonstrating against the Vietnam war. He dismisses them as over educated fools. His subsequent attempt to join the army highlights the fact that some can afford the luxury of having opinions and going on peace rallies, whereas for others without money or qualifications, joining the war effort is their only viable option.
Zigger and Harry form a partnership, vandalising the local youth club and recruiting two young girls for the City cause in the process. Harry’s relationship with the fun loving Sandra is new and exciting at first, with them revelling in their shared obsession for the local team. But they begin to grow apart. Harry wishes to broaden his horizons beyond the terrace on a Saturday afternoon, and Sandra is still enthralled by the City life – ironic of course, as he is the one who introduced her to it.
The staging was playful and inventive. During a court scene, the judge loomed over the defendants from a ludicrously high position, in a sort of balcony above the stage. This was comical but also conveyed the character’s feelings of intimidation and being looked down upon. Before both halves, the cast loitered in small groups, chatting and kicking a football about. This blurred the lines between the play and real life. The acting was superb, with all the performers aged 15-26.
The performance took place at Wilton’s Music Hall – the oldest surviving Grand Music Hall in the world. It’s an atmospheric venue, recently restored but still bearing a level of beautiful decay. Music ran throughout the show, with live instrumentation by young people. Perhaps the funniest moment came when a disillusioned job centre worker with a stiff upper lip sang a musical style ballad about his life.
Zigger has an ambiguous ending. Harry’s internal battle between hooliganism and settling down is resolved, but it’s unclear whether or not he is happy. The production was significant not just because it’s 50 years old, but because it’s 50 years after it became the National Youth Theatre’s first commission of new writing. Zigger Zagger is a definitive British play with a rich history on screen and on stage. I felt as if my team had won the FA Cup.