1902

April 8, 2022 | By More

★★★☆☆     Homecoming

Easter Road Stadium: Thurs 7 – Sun 10 Apr 2022
Review by Hugh Simpson

There is a celebratory air to 1902 at Easter Road. Saltire Sky’s production of Nathan Scott-Dunn’s play has been staged to great acclaim for several years, but has finally arrived at the home of Hibernian FC, who are the focus of much of the action.

The title may need some explanation for outsiders; the play, after all, takes place in 2016. 1902 was the last year previous to this in which Hibs won the Scottish Cup, and this speaks volumes about how we football fans (particularly Scottish ones) love harping on about the distant past.

At least the date refers to a football match, and not a long-ago religious struggle, as might be the case with supporters of certain teams.

Xander Cowan, Bailey Newsome and Josh Brock. Pic: Sands Stirling

With the 2016 final against Rangers fast approaching, Derek ‘Deeks’ Longstaff is forced to buy expensive tickets for himself and his friends from the (fictional) Dug and Duck in Bonnyrigg. Unfortunately, he has borrowed the money from local radge Craig Turnbull, under the pretext of buying his non-existent grandmother her dream garden. Turnbull is less than impressed to discover the truth, and Deeks is forced to confront his past and his own shortcomings to avoid a sticky end.

It should not come as a surprise to anyone that a play built around Hibs should have more than a touch of Irvine Welsh about it. The mix of humour, violence and outright sentimentality on display may at first indicate a wild variation in tone. However, it actually displays a commendable consistency. Anyone who has spent any time around young male football fans will instantly recognise the preoccupations of the men-children on display here.

nostalgic edge

Such behaviour has always been in evidence, but the continuing gentrification of football, and the eroding of the traditional forms of employment in Central Scotland that long nurtured the game, have conspired to give it a more desperately nostalgic edge.

This can be shown in a worship of ‘hard men’, unease around women, and an unswerving identification with family, locality and tribe. There is also a penchant for crushingly close male bonding, ‘banter’ and horseplay inextricably linked to an almost pathological fear of the very notion of actual same-sex attraction.

Ella Stokes in a previous performance of 1902 at Leith Arches. Pic: Saltire Sky.

This could all be profoundly depressing, but is depicted here with considerable humour and bags of energy. Scott-Dunn’s Deeks has a thoughtful, commanding presence, while his script is rich in comedy. Josh Brock’s timing as Frankie is particularly strong, with Alexander Arran Cowen and Bailey Newsome providing support as the other members of the ‘Bonnyrigg Hibs Supporters Battalion.’

Jonny Tulloch’s deranged gangster Craig, meanwhile, has a manic edge that makes for compulsive watching, with a bizarre riff around catchphrases from daytime television a particular highlight. Sands Stirling almost matches him as Deeks’s wayward older brother Tony; Stirling and Scott-Dunn also direct the piece with evident love and care.

The only female character, bartender Mags, is sidelined for much of the play, but Ella Stokes seizes her moments in the spotlight with real panache. Sandy Bain’s musician helps give a unity to the structure. Bain is, however, somewhat sidelined by the unforgiving acting space.

atmosphere

The production gains considerably in atmosphere from being staged inside the stadium. However, the Edinburgh Suite – a long, narrow and rather faceless function room in the main stand, partially overlooking the pitch – is not exactly designed for theatre. Although described as ‘immersive’, the production is largely played out in the middle of the seated audience. When attempts are made to open things out, by featuring an area around a bar or using screens, not everything is visible to everyone watching.

Bailey Newsome and Josh Brock. Pic: Sands Stirling

The close proximity does add to the immediacy of the spitting, snarling and swearing taking place; this is certainly not a production for anyone who is balks at ripe language or is nervous at venturing out into crowded, almost entirely maskless spaces.

This is also one of those occasions where the use of an interval does not help the production. Much of the momentum built up in the first half is dissipated and takes some time to recapture. What could be a thrillingly intense experience over 55 minutes has far less impact over twice that length, and there are definitely sections that could do with trimming, particularly in some of the less focused, more philosophical moments.

Few of the target audience are going to care about that, however. There is a great deal here that will resonate with fans of any football club, and with Hibs fans in particular.

Running time 1 hour 45 minutes including one interval
The Edinburgh Suite, Easter Road Stadium, 12 Albion Place, EH7 5QG
Thursday 7 – Sunday 10 April 2022
Evenings at 7.30 pm
Information and tickets: Book here.

ENDS

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