Posted by: tootingtrumpet | November 28, 2019

On writing about cricket and theatre

I’m not the first of course – Sir Neville Cardus himself wrote about music and, coming at it from another angle, Michael Billington is an acute observer of the game. There are others.

For ten years now, I have had the good fortune to write about both art forms (you’ll allow me that little flattery of the greatest game won’t you?) so it’s as good a time as any to reflect on what I’ve learned.

The Senses

Theatre is an assault on the senses, demanding simultaneous processing of multiple stimuli in real time just to keep up. Pantomime, especially since the advent of video projection and holograms, has that same overwhelming characteristic that one can find watching T20. There’s colours (all bright if not exactly beautiful), there’s audience participation, there’s a whirligig of new characters moving on and off centre stage some heroes some villains, there’s an almost pathological need to hold on to the viewers’ attention and there’s a big closing number to send us all home happy (well, not Ben Stokes in 2016, but you know what I mean).

It’s not all “Behind you!” stuff though where this comparison holds. Grand opera and Test cricket assault the senses in a different manner altogether. Concentration is key to both, but so too the decision on where to pay one’s attention. Of course there’s the batsman and bowler, the soprano and tenor, but also the fielders, the chorus, the balance of attack and defence, the sets and lighting, the music and orchestra, the captaincy and coaching. And the techniques – those fragile, honed, wondrous techniques. It can be expensive in terms of time and money to learn how to take it all in – but the rewards are unparalleled in sport and culture

The Narrative

Sport is oft described as unscripted theatre, so an appreciation of narrative is integral to the understanding of both.

In cricket, narratives are embedded like Russian dolls, the match, the series, the careers of the players and coaching staff, the record of the clashes between the sides and, lest we forget, the complex history of colonial conquest and independence entwined inexorably with cricket’s place in the world. I always ponder when I hear that cricket matches “need context” (hence the World Test Championship and other initiatives): how could could they have less context for those with eyes to see?

Theatre also provides surface and subterranean narratives. There’s the play at hand of course, but, especially with the classics, there’s what the words mean today, how the actors and directors interpret the text, what parallels are drawn between now and then. A King Lear or Julius Caesar in the era of Brexit and Trump is a different proposition than it was even five years ago. The transfixing psychological insights of Anton Chekhov or Federico García Lorca pile on top of one another with each production one sees, like learning a new language, the more one understands, the more one discerns the extent of one’s own ignorance.

The Collective Experience

In a world of individualised choices, cricket and theatre can only be experienced collectively. You have to turn up on time, make compromises with respect to those enjoying the experience around you and pretty much sit still. Increasingly, these are old-fashioned demands.

Unlike cinema, which is a concurrent set of individual experiences or football which is a roiling sea of continual emotional reactions, cricket and theatre have breaks in which one can discuss the progress to date, indeed spaces are provided for exactly such relaxation and reflection. It’s commonplace to turn up early for both, the main event often the centrepiece of a whole day, rather than the end in and of itself. It’s remarkably easy to make friends (and maintain friendships) at the cricket and the theatre; such opportunities are being shrunk elsewhere by the efficiencies of management science or the financial imperative to sweat the assets. And the omnipresent glowing screen.

To have spent as long as I have over the last decade thinking and writing about cricket and theatre is a privilege beyond measure. My thanks to everyone in whom I have sat in judgement, who can rest assured that I have never forgotten the extent of their talents and the dedication required to have reached their position. I hope I have been fair.

“All the world’s a stage / And all the men and women merely players”. “Merely”? Well, maybe, but I doubt it.
Gary Naylor writes on cricket for The Guardian and theatre for BroadwayWorld.






  1. That is beautiful Gary!

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