Minerva Theatre, Chichester: “You realise this is something we should be watching”

Rob Compton is delighted to be back in Chichester once again with the return of Sing Yer Heart Out for the Lads.

Sing Yer Heart Out for the Lads at Chichester Festival Theatre - photo by Helen Murray
Sing Yer Heart Out for the Lads at Chichester Festival Theatre - photo by Helen Murray

Three years after its stint in the Spiegeltent, Roy Williams’ play gets a second chance in the Minerva (July 22-August 13).

Now, as then, he is playing Phil. It’s a play that he has a lot of history with. He was given the piece in about 2015 and tried to get it up and running in a pub theatre “as a specific job, but it all fell through.”

But when he heard it was coming up in Chichester, he got in touch with casting and told them that they had to see him: “I knew the piece so well and it just seemed like fate.

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    In the play, the England vs Germany World Cup qualifying match is about to start, the pub football team is about to charge in and the TV’s on the blink.

    Over the next few hours, national defeat looms and xenophobic tensions rise, fuelled by the inarticulate fury of the pub team captain, Lawrie, and the insidious propaganda of right-wing extremist Alan. And while policeman Lee struggles to keep the peace, disillusioned squaddie Mark and Gina’s bullied son Glen are fighting their own demons.

    For Rob it strikes so many chords: “I grew up in Streatham in south London and I grew up in a very multicultural primary school and area.

    "And the first time I read this play it seemed so alien to me.

    "Maybe it was just because I was younger and I was just oblivious to all the racism.

    "All London is multicultural, of course, but I've never experienced an environment like that, that kind of racism. It just felt that those race issues were really the generation before me.

    “And you were looking at the kind of pub in the play and wondering whether you would get that kind of thing now, that that kind of pub would be a gastro pub now or just not there at all but the play is just so incredibly relevant now, more than it ever was.

    "You see the reaction to the players missing the penalties in the Euros and you realise this is something that we should be watching.

    "We've got the World Cup coming up this year and you think that this is something that people should be aware of. To see this play now is just perfect.”

    Whether the play actually gives answers is of course another matter.

    “Roy (the playwright) doesn't tell you the answers. He just opens it all up to the audience and makes you question your own behaviours and your own lack of education.

    “My part is Phil, and there a few of us in the play that are like a Greek chorus really. We are the majority of people that have very casual racism rather than the malicious kind that you see much more obviously. With people like us it is about knowing how to approach racism when we see it, about our failure to deal with it.”

    Tickets from Chichester Festival Theatre on https://www.cft.org.uk/