Let me start with a disclaimer. It was a beautiful day at Sixfields Stadium when I arrived for the preview of The Twelfth Player.
(And if you haven’t already heard, yes, it does sound like they are staging a play at a football ground because that is precisely what Royal & Derngate is doing).
Thanks to the narcotically glorious weather I am going to remember The Twelfth Player as one of the great afternoons of the summer but without doubt the play/ tour of the stadium/ interactive virtual reality experience anchored that in place.
I’m not a Cobblers fan by birth but I’ve been in the town long enough for the club to matter to me and for me to know some of its stories.
Even for a casual supporter though, there is something of a thrill about the vicarious journey you take through the club and through the lives of its fans in The Twelfth Player.
You are handed an Ipod and earphones at the start, and you set off with the device acting as a guide and ‘second screen’ as you travel through the stands, the changing rooms and out on to the pitch via the players’ tunnel (a moment at which I defy the little boy in all of us not to smile – even for the ladies).
Your journey is sprinkled with vignettes that tell the story of what appears to be a typical football supporting family, although one family member turns out to have unexpected talent. The records and achievements of the club also ring in your ears as you go and there is a sense of not just being in the club but going beyond the bricks and mortar to its real beating heart – the fans.
It would be remiss not to mention Cobblers mascot Clarence the Dragon who skips into view at various points helping to make this an engaging family experience. You even get a rare insight into Clarence’s personal life which I won’t spoil with too much information.
Having said that Billy, 13, and Bonnie, nine, were both gripped by the Ipod enhanced journey of discovery and the emerging story, told through dance, had them asking questions about the history of women’s football.
It’s spookily effective to watch something on the Ipod that is happening at the very spot you are standing in; the characters become a kind of ghostly presence in your hand and you get the sense you are in a special place that is both home and fairytale castle at the same time.
The legal and political repercussions of that incredible promotion season at the Cobblers are still playing out and this production is a smart theatrical response if not to the actual events themselves then certainly to the passion of the fans.
Hardcore supporters might come away feeling that other stories could have been told in this performance but it’s a brilliant overall experience and you’ll finish with a smile on your face.
The Twelfth Player is a collaboration between Seven Sisters Theatre Group, Fermyn Contemporary Art and the Royal & Derngate and runs at Sixfields Stadium from Thursday 22 June to Wednesday 12 July (no performances on Mondays). For a full schedule of dates and times visit www.royalandderngate.co.uk or call Royal & Derngate Box Office on 01604 624811. Tickets are £5 each. This production has received funding support from Arts Council England and is part of Made In Northampton.