Robert Farquhar is one of Liverpool’s most prolific and well-known working playwrights; his credits include Dead Heavy Fantastic, Live Forever, and being one third of the wonderful and much-missed company Big Wow. Now, he is turning his attention to the silver screen – his play God’s Official has been turned into a film, Kicking Off, which is released this week and will have some special screenings at FACT to boot. A comedy about two friends so incensed by a referee’s decision they kidnap him in a moment of madness, it has already won awards and been described as “a British cult classic in the making, having been compared to Shaun of the Dead and Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels”. Read on to find out more…
So Kicking Off is released very soon – is this a new experience for you, and how are you feeling about it?
Yes, it’s absolutely a new experience. I first saw on a screen with an audience in a proper cinema back in October, when it was on at the Raindance Film Festival in London. That was a great nerve-racking moment. And then when we won Best British Independent at the awards ceremony that was a fantastic stamp of approval. I’m really looking forward to it being released – it’s been two years since we filmed it so we’re very keen to get it out into the world.
How did you feel about adapting your original play God’s Official and revisiting an old piece of work that you had done?
God’s Official was originally written over 15 years ago, and I have occasionally revisited it for various productions. I’m a big tinkerer if left to my own devices. Andy the producer had been keen on making a film for a long time, and eventually we realised I would have to do a screenplay before we could realistically begin to get interest, raise money and so on. I did about three drafts before he started trying to put it on people’s desks and send it to actors’ agents.
Obviously the name has changed, why was that decision made? What else did you have to consider or change about turning it into a screenplay?
I quite like the title God’s Official, but I’m not madly in love with it. We needed something that quite clearly said it was a football film, but not at all a hooligan football film, and Kicking Off just seemed to stick from very early on. I think it also gives the indication that it’s funny, because of the pun. Also obviously once you start mentioning God – even though there is a strong religious theme in the story – actually selling the film becomes more difficult.
Your passion for the medium of theatre has always shown through in your writing – I remember there being little on stage but the actors when I last saw God’s Official – what was it like fleshing out that world, and making it more cinematic?
Of course it’s really, really different; but really good writing experience as well, I’ve learnt so much doing it. I’ve written two screenplays since and both are far more aware of cinematic possibilities, which was something I struggled with when adapting God’s Official at first. Obviously everything that is conjured up by words and physical theatre means in the play has to be shown – the big thing is that we never mention what the team is, which is fine on stage as you don’t see colours, but once you’re on screen that changes. But I think we’ve got round that very successfully…
Director Matt Wilde and producer Andy Thompson had each wanted to adapt the play for some time – what was it that grabbed them about it? What sort of working relationship did you have?
We had a really good working relationship as we are all very much in it together. I think what drew Andy to it originally was that it has a very strong hook; in that you say it’s about two men who kidnap a football referee, and people seem to get it, and get that it’s a comedy. Andy also loved how funny it was. He actually first saw it when it was on at the Everyman in 2002. When Matt Wilde came on board he was really good at pulling the drama out of the story, especially the friendship between the two leading characters. I know Matt very well as he directed my play Dead Heavy Fantastic at the Everyman just before it got knocked down. We’re all working together on a big new project at the moment.
What about the new cast – what is it like seeing them perform on screen?
Of course it’s brilliant. They’re actors with impressive CVs, and liked the script enough to do it. Greg McHugh is really, really funny. Warren Brown is really interesting as he gives Wigsy (Degsy in the play) an edge that I haven’t seen that often in stage productions. And Alistair Petrie as the Referee is consummate. I found it fascinating watching Alistair act on set as he knew how to do so much whilst seemingly doing so little.
Where will people be able to see Kicking Off?
We have a distribution deal with a company called Signature. The film is officially released on April 21, and will be available on VoD (video on demand) the following day. The DVD is released on the 25th. But of course, everyone should come and see it on the big screen at FACT on Sunday April 24 at 6.30pm, and then Monday April 25 at 6pm – tickets are available from FACT’s box office.