Euro 2020 and Wimbledon have provided Shakespearean stories, but as a country we need a rewrite - Yvette Huddleston

I’ve been thinking a lot about storytelling over the past few days.

England's Raheem Sterling celebrates with teammates after scoring his side's first goal during the Euro 2020 soccer championship round of 16 match between England and Germany, at Wembley stadium, in London, Tuesday, June 29, 2021. (Matthew Childs/Pool via AP).
England's Raheem Sterling celebrates with teammates after scoring his side's first goal during the Euro 2020 soccer championship round of 16 match between England and Germany, at Wembley stadium, in London, Tuesday, June 29, 2021. (Matthew Childs/Pool via AP).

That’s partly because I was lucky enough to go to the theatre again at the weekend to see Full English, a brilliant production from Bradford-based company Bent Architect, but also, courtesy of Euro 2020 and Wimbledon, prompted by the stories that have played out in football and tennis this week.

There was a wonderful example of the underdogs triumphing over the favourites – Switzerland beating France in a many-goaled encounter, culminating in a nail-biting penalty shoot-out.

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There was also a redemption story with a long tail as Gareth Southgate, 25 years after his missed penalty resulted in England being knocked out of the 1996 semi-finals, led the England team to victory over Germany. It is a shame that this positive outcome was marred somewhat by the terrible spectacle, before the match, of England fans booing the German anthem – a new low in our national narrative, which currently presents as political farce meets dystopian nightmare.

Meanwhile over at Wimbledon Andy Murray faced two five-set battles of epic Shakespearean proportions with all the thrills, spills, ups and downs we have come to expect of him and the legendary Serena Williams made a dramatic exit in her first round match after slipping and twisting her ankle, forcing her to retire.

Storytelling is a fundamental part of being human and the stories we tell are important – they help us to make sense of the world and are a vital tool in how we relate to each other. Experiencing stories – through theatre, literature, film, music, visual arts or sport – is an essential aid to empathy and understanding.

Yesterday a group of UK Theatre Companies of Sanctuary who work with refugees and asylum seekers –including Sheffield-based SBC Theatre and York-based Pilot Theatre – wrote to the Home Secretary Priti Patel to express their concern about proposed legislation that could see the offshoring of detention centres to Africa, Ascension Island or even disused ferries out at sea.

In the letter they stated that “as theatre makers we support people seeking sanctuary to tell their own stories... the language you have adopted of a ‘crisis’ and ‘invasion’ perpetuates dangerous narratives” and asks that Patel and her officials work with them “to give people seeking sanctuary the proper welcome they deserve”.

Our country’s story has taken a dark turn in recent years, not least in the way we treat immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers. We desperately need a rewrite.