Black Diamonds and the Blue Brazil

July 21, 2021 | By | Reply More

★★★☆☆   Human

Sound Stage online: Fri 23 – Sun 25 July 2021
Review by Hugh Simpson

The latest Sound Stage production from the Lyceum and Pitlochry Festival Theatre, Black Diamonds and the Blue Brazil, is a funny and affecting tale of love and obsession set in the decaying heartlands of Scottish industry and football.

The Rev Ron Ferguson’s book about a traumatic time in 1992-93 for Cowdenbeath FC (the ironically named ‘Blue Brazil’ of the title) is one of the best of many such ‘diary of a season’ accounts. This is not only because of the hapless progress of the team, but also because it ranges across the social history and politics of the West Fife coalfields, religion and much else besides.

Cora Bissett, Bruce Fummey, Phil McKee and Nicola Roy.

It is nevertheless a strange candidate for a dramatic version. Suffice it to say that this is an extremely free adaptation by Gary McNair, being the story of Sally, a local woman made good in business in California and Rio, who returns to Cowdenbeath for the funeral of her miner father.

Dad’s last wish is to have his ashes scattered on Cowdenbeath’s ‘stadium’: Central Park. Famous for being more focused on the stock-car racing that takes place on the track dwarfing the pitch than on the football pitch itself, (not to mention the floodlights in front of the stand) Central Park has the worst sightlines imaginable. It is the kind of place beloved by dilettantes and groundhoppers, but is a terrible place to watch football.

Each to their own, however, and Dad’s last wish must be respected. However, the specification is that the scattering must take place after a home win. You do not need to be an expert in Scottish football history to know that this may not end well.

drama and human interest

The storyline certainly adds drama and human interest for a wider audience. Cora Bissett’s Sally is wonderfully animated and conflicted, while Phil McKee’s dour Dad is one of several excellent characterisations he provides.

Nicola Roy supplies a range of pin-sharp comic turns. In contrast, Bruce Fummey’s understated role as Dad’s match-going pal adds grounding and pathos.

McNair’s script mixes humanity, humour and enough of the background to satisfy. At times it appears to lurch into absurdity, but anyone with a Fife background will recognise it as pure realism.

And the crowd go wild…

David Greig’s direction is wonderfully limpid and sympathetic. The sound design of Jon Nicholls benefits greatly from Pippa Murphy’s music, notable for some apposite early 90s synth sounds. The retro feel is mirrored by the unexpected and welcome appearance of Archie Macpherson, and by some era-appropriate theme music.

The use of a chanting crowd is a clever touch; however, when it is used to drive the narrative rather than add colour, it becomes a little difficult to follow.

There are, of course, a couple of factual oddities. 1992 was still mercifully without Off The Ball, while a common inability to distinguish between ‘injury time’ and ‘extra time’ does surface.

To a great extent, however, the football is pushed to the background in what is a story of loyalty, family and belonging. Indeed, it might be better with even less football.

Audio dramas have an advantage in this regard, with sport being notoriously difficult to show dramatically – Martin Compston aside, there just aren’t many performers equally adept at acting and football. It can be done onstage, but requires a great deal of imagination.

schadenfreude

The trouble is that a list of defeats by different clubs, unless you are truly invested in the process, becomes wearying. Attempts to provide resolution draw heavily on schadenfreude. While it is an undoubted part of football, is not nearly as foremost as outsiders often think when witnessing those Old Firm fans who seem to hate the other side more than they love their own club.

The emotional resolution is also too predictable, and slides into sentimentality. This is echoed by the familiar assertion that ‘thousands – tens of thousands’ used to watch such teams. They really didn’t. While many more than the recent low hundreds did once go to Cowdenbeath, there have only been a couple of occasions in history when crowds averaged more than four thousand (and never five figures).

You can see where everything is going all along, and it all takes far too long getting there. However, the liveliness of the writing and performing does make this a very enjoyable listen.

Running time 1 hour 40 minutes (including one interval)
Royal Lyceum/ Pitlochry Festival Theatre online
Friday 23 – Saturday 25 July 2021
Evenings Fri/Sat: 7.30 pm; Sun Matinee: 4.30 pm (Virtual bar opens 30mins before start time).
Each performance includes a different Post-Show Talk:
Friday 23: Writer and Director
Saturday 24: Actors and Director
Sunday 25: In Context – an insight into the themes of the play from scientific, cultural and political experts.

Information and tickets:
Lyceum: Book here.
Pitlochry Festival Theatre: Book Here.

Rev Ron Ferguson’s original book is available to buy on Amazon. Click the image for details.

ENDS

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