First published in The Times, Tuesday February 22 2022
We first meet Garry (played by Martin Docherty), the main protagonist and narrator of Eilidh Loan’s big-hearted footballing drama, on his 50th birthday. Judging by the virulence with which he pops his birthday balloons, he’s in no mood to celebrate, preferring to take refuge in happier times and the heady sensations of youth.
The music of Joy Division, skinny ties and high-waisted trousers work on Garry like Proustian madeleines. As he outlines in his opening monologue, coming of age in small-town west of Scotland in the Thatcherite 1980s meant few opportunities and grim prospects. The motley Moorcroft FC, which Garry kicked off to reunite his school pals and bolster wounded self-esteem, provided brief but meaningful respite.
The tone of Loan’s play falls somewhere between the insouciant humour of The Full Monty and the unflinching social commentary of Trainspotting. As the disparate group is based on Loan’s father’s stories of his own youthful friendships, the characters are portrayed with generosity and their various banter sessions, nights on the tiles, bust ups and punch ups are convincingly drawn.
The play, which Loan directs, also features an interesting and highly topical exploration of masculinity. The arrival of the team’s strips, in a dazzling shade of fuchsia pink, provokes an ugly confrontation between the aggressive, troubled Paul (Sean Connor) and Tubs (Ryan Hunter), who has come out as gay. One by one the characters are shown to be trapped by their machismo, sometimes with serious consequences. Loan further underlines her point about the performance of gender by presenting match-playing scenes through witty passages of balletic movement.
Simply yet energetically staged on Carys Hobbs’s open set, the show’s sharp dialogue and strong characterisation invite full emotional engagement, even if the script could use a stronger dramatic shape. The piece ends on a down beat that sits uneasily with the otherwise painstaking mix of fun and poignancy, and Docherty, as the group’s linchpin, is required to provide continual exposition, as though the playwright doesn’t quite trust her audience to grasp the ideas underpinning the play. The relationships between these lads, in all their caustic, fond and increasingly tender glory, should be left to speak for themselves.
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