Fringe Online 2021
Sally is going home. To Cowdenbeath. She is on a flight where an annoying passenger is hoping to grab their magazine, talk through the flight or just be that person who is darned annoying. She is leaving her day job in Rio and heading to attend her father’s funeral prior. His final wish is that his ashes should be scattered over the centre circle at Central Park, home of Cowdenbeath FC. Simples But after a win? The problem for her is that The Blue Brazil, having secured promotion the year before, have let go their manager and they then manage only 3 league wins all season! Between being allowed more time off to shuttle between home and home and then attending all the games she can whilst The Blue Brazil are having one of their worst ever seasons, she finds herself, a place in her heart for her father and for the one abiding love they both shared, though hers has been buried – Cowdenbeath FC.
Adapting a book which has a foreword from the chaplain to the Tartan Army should show you enough of the hopelessness and the hope that is carried in our national sport top contextualise this performance. But then again, Ron Ferguson’s book is not only a rich tome, filled with humour and despair as his team, Cowdenbeath FC embark on their epic season, he is also a cleric himself. The book, as the season does ends in relegation, though with enough humanity to couch it as a trivial tragedy, but a tragedy, nonetheless.
Football has always provided the arts with a bit of an issue. Firstly, it never follows a script. Unless of course you are the upstarts Gretna who require James Grady in the final game of the season to pop up and give them promotion to the promised land – but that equally ended in ignominy. Secondly, the drama of any sport has happened. It is on the pitch and as a live spectacle there is little to beat football, especially in the lower leagues for toying with your emotions and then dashing your optimism; just ask followers of Brechin City over the last few years or Fort William fan(s).
Football therefore becomes the backdrop rather than the main feature and here Gary McNair has provided us the story for Sally, who is trying to escape and adhere to the last request of her father. It is quite clear halfway through, her resolve in getting back to work is starting to wane; oh the power of Central Park. And we are with her all the way.
McNair has an ear for the needs of the lower league football fan as they turn up with ever diminishing scepticism coupled with the hope that this week, of all weeks, they finally do it – whatever it may be. It is not just the ecstasy of achieving but the agony of the wait that is celebrated. Here he captures that to perfection.
It helps that his cast includes the likes of Cora Bissett as Sally, and she has the exasperation down to a T. I have at least three daughters and a stepdaughter I dragged to the football – all of whom have escaped the clutches of the Black and White in our hometown of Ayr and can hear the anguish in the tones of Sally. That is not to dimmish the contributions of Bruce Fummey, Phil McKee and Nicola Roy as they all shine throughout. With the underlying tension of possible romance between Sally and the man whose name she can never remember, played by Fummey, it is poised well. But the ace in the pack is the use of Archie MacPherson. The man provides a stramash of a commentary throughout. When you hear those tones, I began to doubt if I had heard correctly but it is he! And he is as magnificent playing himself as he was a commentator for most of my watching of big games on the TV. Along with the chanting from the terraces it keeps us the right side of authenticity.
It is deftly crafted and directed as director David Greig shows a playwright’s hand as he carefully carves out the storyline and allows the words and the nuances to play like Hooky Leonard on the left.
Overall, the success of the use of a structure has helped the piece transfer from the written page to the stage – even if just in yer lugs. It captures the sensation, helped by the use of terracing chanting we all know and cower from – to augment the effect of the storyline. It may have been a disastrous season for the Beath but for the creatives, they once again, made something worthy to rise from its ashes.