The Spine: An Interview with Writer/Director Nathan Powell

With The Spine soon to open at the Unity Theatre in Liverpool, we took the opportunity in between rehearsals to have a chat with the writer and director of the play, Nathan Powell.

He discussed some of the challenges young people are facing within the football academy system today, why he wrote The Spine, and how the actors are getting into character.

Tell us a bit about The Spine, and what inspired you to write it.

I was inspired to write the play after having a conversation with a good friend of mine that used to play in a football academy, and it just seemed like such an interesting world full of hope and incredible highs, but also some pretty harsh lows.

The play lets us get into meaty conversations about racism, the prospects of young people today, identity, and more, in a way that is beautiful and exciting to watch as well.

The play focuses on three young boys in the football academy system. What have you learnt about the academy system whilst researching & writing?

I’ve learnt how truly dedicated these young boys have to be to have a chance at making it in the game, as well as some of the sacrifices that they have to make for a dream that is really difficult to attain.

Some of the facts are pretty rough. For example, out of all the boys that are playing in academy football at age 9, less than half of 1% of them will ever play professional football or make a living from the game. Less than half a percent!!!!

What writers & artists have inspired you through this process?

A lot of music has been inspiring me throughout this process actually, more than theatre writers. I have been listening to a lot of UK Rap, Grime and Drill with artists like Loski, Headie One, JME and SL. I’ve been really inspired by some of the playfulness and silliness in some of the lyrics whilst still talking about really serious topics. There is a clear feeling in young black Britain today that we are going to enjoy life despite some of the terrible situations we might be in, and I think a lot of that comes out in the interactions of the boys in the play.

What will a typical day in the rehearsal room look like?

It’s going to be exhausting in the best way possible! There is going to be a lot of movement, a lot of football, a lot of competition, and great music. This show is all about brotherhood in a competitive space and how competition affects that relationship, and to get us into that world we are going to try and copy that environment to experience some of that tension.

What excites you the most about The Spine?

The most exciting thing about this show for me is the fact that it speaks to a generation and a demographic that have often felt excluded from the theatre. I think it will also start a conversation between younger and older people and will allow young people to feel empowered to talk about how they are feeling.

Also, as a part of the rehearsals we will have a training session at a football academy, so I get to live out my childhood dream of being a footballer for one morning…

Image by Wesley Storey.