A Field of Our Own

Aug 15 2017 | By More

★★★★☆    Inclusive

Easter Road Stadium: Tue 15 – Sun 20 Aug 2017
Review by Thom Dibdin

There is more at stake in Duncan Kidd’s play about the birth of Hibernian Football Club than just its Easter Road stadium. Echoed in Edinburgh’s history is an issue which still exists today.

Whether Hibees or Jambos, football supporters or no, A Field of Our Own examines the role of the outsider in a society – the immigrant seeking sanctuary, divided from the residents by religion but learning how to find tolerance and, dare one say it, a level playing field.

Hazel Irvine and Jacqueline Kelly. Pic Katie Innes

The play is as heavily sentimental as most football drama, and for its initial dramatic drive relies heavily on the emotional tug of a mother fleeing the Irish famine with two young children – and a babe in arms who will not survive the walk from Glasgow to Leith.

When it comes to the historical events that led to the birth of Hibernian, however, elements of the two sides of the divided city are required to work together to overcome the reactionary forces of the nascent footballing authorities.

Director Steve Small of Leith-based Strange Town theatre company, has assembled a strong cast. He brings together young and old performers with recently graduated, or just-about-to-graduate actors – several of whom will be known to fans of the Attic Collective.

Jacqueline Kelly provides much of that central sentimentality as Mrs Whelahan, mother of Marie (Ellen Shand) and Michael (Fraser MacRae). That’s the Michael Whelahan who was to go on to become the first Hibs captain to gain silverware, winning the Edinburgh Association Cup in 1879.

Macho posturing

First, however, Michael and his pals had to get the team started – when they couldn’t even get a game on the Meadows because of their Irish heritage. And even when they did form their own club, with the help of Canon Hannan, they could not find any opposition.

Lauri Young, James O’Neil, Jack Sinclair, Fraser MacRae and Mark O’Neill. Pic Katie Innes.jpg

The macho posturing and bigotry of the football pitch is well played in the long, found space under the new East Stand of Easter Road, disguised just enough by Katie Innes’s abstract design so that the hatches for the pie stalls don’t impinge on the performance.

The creation of the young team with the help of Canon Hannan is told with a solid nod to the power of oratory. Conor McLeod holds the stage as Hannan, a priest who you could believe in as a leader in the community, while MacRae’s Michael has all the twitching dynamism and bravado of a ready-made captain.

Against them are the forces of the Edinburgh and Scottish Football Associations, represented by Malcolm Milne and David Hoy and portrayed with an eye to comedy as much as to historical fact.

It is comedy which should amuse football fans of any stripe. The two FAs seek to keep the status quo and maintain their control of the game. Only when the financial situation is right to they realise that it might be time to change their minds. Milne and Hoy milk the egregious nature of their characters for all its worth.

Christmas Day, 1875

Before official acceptance could happen, however, Hibs had to find a team which would play against them. Which happened on Christmas Day, 1875, when the then recently formed Heart of Midlothian team took them on at the Meadows.

By focusing on this historical meeting as his central point, with James O’Neill making a solid showing as a Hearts player, Kidd succeeds in bringing a strong sense of universality to the show.

This might be romanticised, with a somewhat lugubrious live score (albeit beautifully realised) by Gary Cameron, but it shows the power of football to bring a community together.

“I’m not a fan!” James McIvor’s Navvie shouts at Canon Hannan, “I’m a supporter, and it is my support which keeps this team alive!” A sentiment which supporters of all football teams can get behind.

Running time: 1 hour 30 minutes (without interval)
Hibernian Football Club (East Stand), ​12 Albion Pl, EH7 5QG (Venue 339).
Tuesday 15 – Sunday 20 August 2017.
Tue 15, Thurs 17/Fri 18: 7.45pm; Sun 20: 2pm & 7pm.
Run sold out.
Details: https://tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/field-of-our-own

Strange Town website: http://strangetown.org.uk
Strange Town Facebook page: Strange-Town-36037667550
Strange Town on Twitter: @infoStrangeTown

GameChanger website: http://gamechangerpsp.co.uk


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