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Katie Posner on bringing the passion of football to the York Theatre Royal with the Season Ticket

PUBLISHED: 15:07 05 October 2016 | UPDATED: 15:07 05 October 2016

Katie Posner

Katie Posner

Archant

Rob Gemmell speaks to Katie Posner, the Artistic Director of the Pilot Theatre in York about her new play which brings Newcastle's biggest "religious" passion to the stage… football

“What is a club in any case? Not the buildings or the directors or the people who are paid to represent it. It’s not the television contracts, get-out clauses, marketing departments or executive boxes. It’s the noise, the passion, the feeling of belonging, the pride in your city. It’s a small boy clambering up stadium steps for the very first time, gripping his father’s hand, gawping at that hallowed stretch of turf beneath him and, without being able to do a thing about it, falling in love.”

That quote was spoken by possibly one of the most well-known figures in football, particularly to Newcastle United fans. Bobby Robson was the manager of Newcastle from 1999 to 2004, a career that saw him lift the club from the bottom of the table to Champions League qualification. He is a legend in the game. A legend to football fans all over the world.

For Katie Posner, Artistic Director of the Pilot Theatre in York, it is that passion that held the key for her next project. “I couldn’t believe the passion,” she begins. “It feels like it is the religion of the city and there is such loyalty as well. Even though the club were relegated last season over 30,000 fans renewed their season tickets. There is a real sense of belief at the club.”

Katie’s career actually started on the stage as an actor before she moved into teaching. From there she became a freelance director. “I joined the Pilot Theatre in 2007 as an assistant when Marcus Romer was Artistic Director. His ethos was that you ‘watch one’, ‘assist one’ and ‘do one’ and that was what happened with me. In 2009 I directed my first play at the Pilot which was ‘Fever Chart’ by Naomi Wallace.”

It was a conversation with Northern Stage Artistic Director, Lorne Campbell, that brought about their new project. “We wanted a coverage between both organisations,” Katie continues. “I spent a lot of time looking at potential projects. Lorne was really interested in stories of Newcastle and set me on my task. I had experience of working in Newcastle before, so I knew the industry.” Not a football fan as such, Katie has been to see games before. “I couldn’t believe the crowds at football matches, the passion they exude, the energy and the feeling of grown men being allowed to be emotional.” The discussions led to the 2000 film, ‘Purely Belter’ which was adapted from the Jonathan Tulloch novel, ‘The Season Ticket.’ Katie picks up the story. “I read the novel and thought it was perfect. It is about two young lads who have such ambition and want to be able to get season tickets to St. James Park (Newcastle United’s ground) and feel like they belong. They’re a good example of the disenfranchised voices of today and it felt entirely relevant. It is also really funny. I suppose it can be described as two young lads on their way to the Holy Grail, but not quite reaching it. It’s all about the journey and that’s what matters. They deal with difficulties in life, but it is a lovely coming of age story.”

The difficulty with adapting a novel to the stage was condensing the story down to fit as Katie discovered. “We spent a long time going through draft after draft because you have to work out how to kill the right darlings and you want to be truthful to the novel as it’s been updated from its release and we’ve even introduced another character. Throughout the process you’re always asking yourself if it still works as a play. We have a great set that was inspired by architecture of Gateshead and high rise buildings as the lads come from very poor backgrounds. It even does some cool tricks which you will be revealed if you go to see the show!” ‘The Season Ticket’ opened on September 23rd. “It’s been going down a storm in Newcastle!” Katie beams. “We’ve practically had standing ovations every night.”

It is a known fact that theatre and the arts in general have been suffering over the years and I asked Katie what her thoughts were on the subject. “Theatres are taking less risks on new work as they are unable to sell ideas to audiences and, therefore, you have to get into the realms of rehashing classic work, which isn’t a bad thing as you give it a contemporary update. Audiences are being pushed and are not experiencing anything different and that generation will eventually die out. The biggest challenge is how to engage with the new generation of audiences. Younger people have everything on tap now with shows being available on iPlayer and the ability to watch videos on the internet. The question is how do you get those young people to come to a building and sit in the dark to experience something amazing and that can actually be life changing – that is the biggest challenge if you can’t actually do new work that comments socially and politically about the world we live in now and that shows recognisable characters. It’s a big thing that theatres are struggling with. At Pilot we are always thinking about different ways to engage the future generation of artists in order to make sure the art doesn’t die out.”

Katie’s next project takes her from the terraces of Newcastle United to Gujarat in Western India with her next play, ‘Made in India’ which tackles topics very different to themes of football. “The story is set in a surrogacy clinic in Gujarat. It is about a Western woman who comes over to rent an Indian woman’s womb and have a baby. It is hugely political as there has been a surrogacy ban for foreigners that has recently come out and this story explores the last western woman to have her baby in that way.”

For now, there’s still plenty to play for in ‘The Season Ticket’ which continues showing at the Northern Stage theatre in Newcastle until October 8th with an away trip to York Theatre Royal among the upcoming fixtures.

Tour Dates

York Theatre Royal

Wed 12th Oct – Sat 15th Oct at 7.30pm (Mat: 13 Oct at 2pm & 15 Oct at 2.30pm)

Box Office: 01904 623568 & www.yorktheatreroyal.co.uk

Winchester Theatre Royal

Thu 20th Oct – Sat 22nd Oct at 7.30pm (20 Oct at 6pm)

Box Office: 01962 840440 or www.theatreroyalwinchester.co.uk

Dundee Rep

25th Oct - 27th Oct at 7.30pm (Mat: 22 Oct at 2.30pm)

Box office: 01382 223530 www.dundeerep.co.uk

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