Liam Rudden: The theatre of speedway

Edinburgh Monarchs

Edinburgh Monarchs

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IT was my 15th birthday. To celebrate I was taken to my first speedway match. Edinburgh Monarchs v Rye House Rockets. The Monarchs raced at Powderhall Stadium in those days. Long gone, Powderhall was bulldozed for new housing, but it was there I first experienced the thrill of a sport that had as much drama and excitement as any musical or theatre production I’d seen.

Having never been into football, it was the moment I realised speedway, or indeed any sport, had one advantage over staged performances - the drama, the emotion, is real, not dictated by script or process.

That truth is what our best actors and actresses strive to recreate when on stage.

So it has always amused me when folk in the theatrical circles I mix in discover my love of the sport.

Their confusion is visible and voiced before they realise it; ‘Motorbike racing! What!?!’

A reassessment of any first impressions followed usually with a blurted, “Never had you down as a petrol head.”

I’m not; speedway bikes run on pure methanol. Nevertheless, somewhere an unwritten bylaw or some such seems to have been passed that theatre and motorsports don’t mix. Nonsense. And not just motorsports. Any sport provides much the same release as any scripted entertainment.

Actors, riders, players... all are paid to perform and entertain. Like pantomime, the good guys, the home team, are cheered; the baddies, the away team, jeered. Fans get caught up in the emotion and stories of riders and actors alike. There’s really little difference.

Like an unfolding soap, in form riders soar to new heights while others face the axe, team managers acting as script editors as one character is written out, another written in.

Notably, none of my speedway circle have ever been surprised by my love of theatre.