Sweet FA

Aug 10 2022 | By More

★★★★★   Sparkling

Tynecastle Park (Venue 547): Wed 3 – Mon 23 Aug 2022
Review by Hugh Simpson

Sweet FA, This Is My Story’s tuneful evocation of women’s football during World War I, is back for a rematch at Tynecastle Park. It remains an inspiring and beautifully performed piece, which seems even more impressive and important at a second viewing.

Tim Barrow and Paul Beeson’s play with songs tells the story of the women of the North British Rubber Company in Edinburgh’s Fountainbridge. They take the places of the men who are away fighting – both on the production line and on the football field.

Ria McLeod (Daisy) and Rachel Millar (Alice). Pic Simon Messer

The play may be fiction, but some of the events and people described are real enough, and the meteoric rise of women’s football (and its subsequent suppression) certainly took place. And if the actual story is largely invented, it is at least partly because the real history is so woefully under-documented.

The line between a full-blown musical and a ‘play with songs’ is not always an easy one to draw, but this is best considered as an example of the latter, with it being firmly in the Scottish tradition of consciousness-raising efforts. It is sprinkled with modern-day references, some of which are newly updated and fit seamlessly into the whole.

It is always difficult to assess the merits – and possible durability – of the songs in a new piece on first hearing, and I am perfectly willing to admit that I was wrong about this one before. The more you hear Matthew Brown’s folky melodies, the better they sound, while Barrow and Beeson’s lyrics are more than serviceable.

The highest compliment that can be paid to the cast, and to the direction of Bruce Strachan, is that the use of an understudy ‘on the book’ made no difference whatsoever to the ensemble numbers and precious little to the rest. Maggie Morrison did excellently standing in for the indisposed Rachel MacPherson-Graham, navigating two contrasting roles as most of the cast do.

These roles are members of the football team at the Rubber Company, and the swaggering toffs of the SFA (but not that one, obviously). The self-satisfied defenders of the status quo are obvious exaggerations, although not to the degree one would like to think, and in their different way are every bit as effective as the more realistic characters.

Helen Graham. Pic Simon Messer

The play’s central relationship between Gorgie native Daisy (Ria McLeod) and the more affluent Alice (Rachel Millar) is handled with sensitivity, and played thoroughly convincingly by both performers.

Lucy Pedersen shines in more comedic roles, while Heather Horsman, Nikki Auld and the excellent Heather Cochrane make up an ensemble that is coherent as any you will see, with Jodie Differ and Charlie West providing sterling musical support.

That ever-troublesome business of portraying football on stage is handled with great skill on Eve Murray’s imposing set built into Tynecastle’s Main Stand.

There is the occasional reference that football fans will enjoy more (and Hearts fans most of all), but undoubtedly this can be enjoyed even by those with no interest in football.

That those involved in women’s football still feel the need to promote or even justify it in 2022 seems ludicrous, but as this play aptly reminds us, the criticism, apathy, antagonism and outright fury still displayed by some of the more Neanderthal opponents has long been around.

The recent women’s Euros should have a positive effect, but the tribalism, whataboutery and entrenched ideas that characterise Scottish football still have a negative impact. Witness the bizarre report on a radio station not a million miles from Edinburgh the day after the Lionesses’ triumph, speculating on the possible effects on the Scottish women’s game, that managed to avoid mentioning the word ‘England’ even once.

The events detailed in this play show that even the most promising situations can be in danger with the likes of the Shady Football Authority around. So the craft, tunefulness and sheer joy of Sweet FA should be celebrated even more.

Running time 2 hours 15 minutes including one interval
Tynecastle Park, Gorgie Road, EH 1 5NL (venue 547)
Wednesday 3 – Tuesday 23 August 2022
Daily, not Fri 12 – Sun 14 or Thurs 23: 19.45; Mat Sun 21: 13:00

Information and tickets: Book here.

Company website: https://www.thisismystoryproductions.co.uk
Instagram: @sweetfashow
Facebook: @sweetfashow
Twitter: @sweetfashow

The cast. Pic Simon Messer


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