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One Year Off - Interview With Birmingham Playwrights Forrester & Fletcher

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Writers Talk About Their First Full-Length Play
Birmingham-based writing duo Olly Forrester and Dom Fletcher started their career doing sketches across the West Midlands and went on to win an award for their short play Twenty-Two Thousand CVs.

Olly Forrester, Dom Fletcher, Birmingham, playwrights,
Birmingham playwrights Olly Forrester and Dom Fletcher.

Moving on to their first full length play, their latest creation One Year Off is a satire that imagines a year when the UK is deprived of football.

Directed by Robert Ball of Stratford upon Avon-based FRED theatre, the play runs at The Old Stock Joint Theatre in Birmingham from July 16 to 18.

In One Year Off, the government has imposed a 12-month ban on the beautiful game in a bid to improve the UK's Happiness Index. Anyone found playing or talking about the sport will face a custodial sentence.

The premise of the play is that Premier league superstars have to find new careers, while football fans must find something else to support, which ends up with some humorous scenarios.

It's a comedy told through the eyes of four characters from the West Midlands, a region the pair know well.

Forrester & Fletcher, who began working together in 2008, took time out for a Q&A with Weekend Notes on the new production.

Q. What sort of emotions are you trying to provoke with this play?

First and foremost, we hope they feel well and truly amused. But we'd also like audiences to reflect on the monopoly football has on UK culture.

There's an important line where one of the characters, Nat Archer, an obsessive West Bromwich fan questions his many decades of worshipping the Baggies: 'I spent my whole life giving a massive f**k about 11 men who never gave a f**k about me'.

Perhaps we'll provoke similar epiphanies, or perhaps people will be thankful that they don't have to resort to supporting their local school, as Nat does in the absence of football. He becomes obsessed with the school's position in the GCSE league tables and starts talking about signing creative foreign players from prep schools.

But 'One Year Off' is as much about British class and culture as football so we hope to provoke a range of reactions from what is essentially a 'state-of-the-nation' satire.

Olly Forrester, Dom Fletcher, Birmingham, playwrights,
Forrester and Fletcher in action

Q. Have you got a favourite character in the play? Who and why?

I think it has to be Ricoh (the voice of the Ricoh Arena in Coventry). He, or rather 'it', is the most ambitious character Forrester & Fletcher have written, and he was enormous fun to create.

We spent ages experimenting with his tone of voice and consulted a massive variety of sources from Samuel Beckett's short-story 'Ping' to turns of phrase used by despotic dictators.

Q. Is football a passion for you?

(Olly) I used to live for the game when I was younger. I played my first competitive football match at the age of four and spent many years playing in Saturday and Sunday leagues - not to mention endless hours in the garden trying to perfect overhead scissor kicks. I won the keep-ups competition at school which probably inspired the 'terrorist act' committed by one of the characters during the ban. She does 1,000 keep-ups outside Dudley's Merry Hill Shopping Centre as an act of protest. Needless to say she quickly gets arrested.

But then music and bands came along and my interest in football dwindled. When you tell people that you used to be into football, they look at you like you're clinically insane. People are very black and white about their allegiance or opposition to the sport. Which is why we like the time-limited nature of the ban it placates neither party, just delivers a much-needed detox.

Dom is pretty useless on the pitch. You'd probably pick him last, or get him to be ref - a role he performed admirably at my recent stag do. But he'll talk to you for hours about Real Sociedad's 'embryonic pressing game'.

Q. Is this a play just for football fans?

The satire is about the incessant coverage and commercialisation of football. It's about the pre-season 'gossip', the fact that you can now bet on the number of corner kicks in the first half, it's about the fact that even substitutions are sponsored by brands - something we discovered during a trip to the Ricoh for our research.

It's not a slight on the game itself. Nor the timeless joy of having a kick around in the park. In fact, I can still say to this day that there's no feeling quite like scoring a goal, even if it's against Gosport Falcons in the pouring rain.

One Year Off
Birmingham's Old Joint Stock Theatre
July 16 -18 July at 7pm . Extra 2pm show on Sat July 18.
Visit the Old Joint Stock Theatre website for tickets.
12 or 10 concessions.

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Why? What would happen if football was banned for a year
When: July 16 - 18
Phone: 0121 200 0946
Where: Old Joint Stock Theatre, 4 Temple Row West, Birmingham.
Cost: 12 or 10 concessions
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