This tale of male friendship and football is based on writer / director Eilidh Loan’s own memories of growing up in a working-class community in Renfrewshire, and the stories that her dad told her. The play begins as Garry (Martin Docherty) turns 50. He’s grown weary over the years, and he starts to reminisce about his glory days, in the 1980’s, and the friends he played football with back when he had fire in his belly.
As narrator, Garry establishes that the story is about working-class men, and will not feature “big bits of furniture falling from the sky”, or sparkly costumes, because “life is so boring and shite” where he comes from. Everyone needs an escape from life’s hardships, and these men find it in their grassroots football team, Moorcroft.
The characters are well drawn and relatable, with compelling performances from every member of the seven-strong, all-male cast. Other characters are referred to in the dialogue, giving a deep sense of community, and lives lived across generations.
Inevitably, Noodles (Santino Smith) accidentally orders pink football strips for the team, and some of the men consider quitting rather than face ridicule, but their friendship and camaraderie gives them the strength to keep playing.
I loved hearing the men’s chit-chat and revelled in the speech patterns and deprecating humour typical of Scotland’s West coast. There are plenty of laughs, but humour can also be used to keep people in their place (“We took the piss out of the clever c***”), and we see the impact on the men of banter infused with racism, homophobia and religious bigotry. These men laugh together in order to make their lives bearable, but also to avoid talking about their feelings, with disastrous consequences for their mental health.
The set is fairly simple, and the characters inhabit traditionally male spaces. There is a bar, with 1980’s wallpaper and the essential scampi fries, which takes me right back in time. The bar rotates to become a locker room, and there is a barber’s shop too. It is all set against a backdrop of graffiti.
There are some belters of 1980’s tunes, and in a nightclub the men dance on the bar to the song “I was a Male Stripper in a Gogo Bar” by Man 2 Man, highlighting the dissonance between the intensely homophobic social environment these men inhabit, and the thrillingly taboo gayness that characterised so much popular music at that time.
There are occasional mentions of an Abba Megamix that is never actually played. I suspect that this is a ploy to highlight the disappointment experienced by the characters. However, there are plenty of other great songs in the show, and I can listen to Abba any time I like.
Traverse 1 was sold out, and the show received a well-deserved standing ovation. This is a raw, real, gripping show with excellent performances and a great script. It’s still on tour, so book your tickets now – you won’t regret it!
Reviewer: Wendy McEwan
Reviewed: 25th October 2023
North West End UK Rating: