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Stage Dragon Review: Gods of the Game – Grange Park Opera

Published on: 7 Oct, 2022
Updated on: 7 Oct, 2022

Grange Park Opera’s Gods of the Game

By Alice Fowler

Opera and football may seem unlikely bedfellows. Put class and snobbery aside, however, and their soaring rivalries and passions, triumphs and disasters are closer than we think.

This synchronicity is exploited to the full in a brand-new opera showing at Grange Park Opera’s Theatre in the Woods at West Horsley Place. Commissioned by Sky Arts, this dazzling and outspoken production both celebrates and bitterly condemns the world’s most popular sport.

Lee Mack appears in the first three performances.

Actor and comedian Lee Mack appears in the commentary box for the first three performances; one of which will be filmed to air on Sky Arts and Freeview on November 14.

The opera tells the story of two childhood friends, Viko (Michael de Souza) and Eva (Milly Forrest). From humble beginnings, both have grown up to become footballing icons, captaining their nation’s men’s and women’s teams.

Eva (Milly Forrest) and Viko (Michael de Souza)

When the pair front their country’s bid to host the 2030 World Cup, they enter a nefarious world of bribery and corruption, overseen by the game’s all-powerful president, Victor Puzzo (Alan Ewing). Aligned with Puzzo is the unsavoury Soren (David Webb), a longstanding enemy of Viko, who will stop at nothing to ensure his own nation wins the bid to host the tournament.

President (Alan Ewing), Soren (David Webb)

De Souza and Forrest win sympathy as the struggling, idealistic underdogs in a system that has sold out to big money, merchandising and corporate corruption. Webb is excellent as the successful player who’s lost all integrity, while Ewing convinces as the bullying, ruthless president.

Subtle, this opera is not. Director PJ Harris explores racism, sexism, hypocrisy and corruption, head-on. Dark humour abounds. Viko, a player at the tail-end of his career, is reduced to making adverts for beef burgers.

Meanwhile, the dastardly Puzzo spouts fashionable buzz-words – “Inclusivity – community – this is who I am” – that seem to convince the fawning reporters who dog his every step.

Gods of the Game features the world’s first Footy Fan Chorus: real football fans from a spectrum of clubs, Newcastle to West Ham, who have been given a singing crash course to turn their passion for the beautiful game into rousing, enervating anthems.

Some of the on-stage chorus but video footage of the fans-turned-opera-singers is also used

Video footage of the fans-turned-opera-singers is used during the live performances. With words from writer and librettist Phil Porter and music from the Five-a-Side composing team, there is more than a nod to classic opera arias including, of course, Nessun Dorma.

The composing team includes Julian Philips alongside young composers Aran O’Grady, Ábel M G E, Blasio Kavuma and Lucy Armstrong, embodying Sky Arts’ commitment to new and emerging talent. Meanwhile, conductor George Jackson and the Gascoigne Orchestra provide high-class accompaniment from the pit.

Phil Edgar-Jones, Director of Sky Arts and Entertainment, commented: “One of our aims at Sky Arts is to move beyond TV from time to time and help create work that lives in the real world, so we’re really excited to bring this brilliant idea to the stage with Grange Park Opera, Surrey and Factory Films.

“Football is laced with all the drama you need for operatic treatment – heroes, villains, rivalry, joy, despair; it’s all there and beautifully captured in Gods of the Game.”

Gods of the Game continues at Grange Park Opera on October 8, 9, 15 and 16.

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