Edinburgh Fringe 2011
Class Stage Productions present Kirsty Eyre’s, “On the Bench”; the first of her back to back comedies at this venue using the same five cast members who have later play strippers in “Dances for Wolves”. This satire looks at the lives of 5 fictional high profile footballers, the rise and decline of their careers, match fixing, and the media. Played by an all female cast, they show the beautiful game for what it has become; populated by spoilt and ridiculous super rich celebrities.
It’s a penalty shootout. The boys assume the position and the striker, Scooner, picks his spot. Eyeing the ball and its intended destination, he runs at it and kicks it soaring into the air. The resounding cheer from the terraces and accompanying voiceover confirm it’s a winner. In slow motion, the men rejoice, leaping on each other, dancing, gesticulating, and incorporate a comic mime of hoovering. Our commentator explains that this Hoover movement is a comic reference to an indiscreet liaison between the striker and a member of his cleaning staff.
Five players appear in the changing room with the swagger associated with people who have it all. Scooner, played by the excellent Sarah Grove, has recently been vilified in the press for sex with underage girls. The banter is ruthless but Scooner is only a victim for a short while as they each have something they’d rather not have mentioned. The team consists of the hilarious French player who believes he is God, the sex mad possession motivated celebrity chaser, the dodgy match fixer and the earnest one whom they all suspect is gay because he doesn’t sleep around. Armed with vicious lyrics and rapid diatribe, they mock and deride each other.
This is a hilarious send up of football culture. The language is strictly for the terraces and, as shocking as it may sound, our loveable fathers, brothers, sons and husbands change into these foul mouth creatures when watching the teams they adore. Eyre manages to incorporate most of the recent media fiascos, from their pampered injuries to scandalous court cases. No major player goes untouched in this witty piece of writing. Shearer, Lineker and Hanson’s commentary styles earns their own spot, with Lineker’s blatant sell out to a popular brand of crisps ruthlessly mimicked.
This shows unique selling point is that an all female cast depict these testosterone fuelled animals with distinct accuracy. Off the pitch they compare cars, houses, marriages and affairs with each others’ wives and various pop starlets, and it’s all about scoring brownie points. Everyone wants some form of sponsorship or to end up in a reality show. Their frequent appearances in the tabloids are an unwanted badge of honour, providing an opportunity to move the spotlight from one to another. The aggression in the body language when the cast portray match scenes is hilarious, eerily so, due to the fact that it isn’t an exaggeration of what we tend to see.
This is a combination of Eyre’ strong comic writing married to five excellent performances. The shrill sound of the referee’s whistle is the cue for tight lighting changes, and the ensemble amuse and delight with their mindless profane chanting. Dressed in full football strip, they work with a minimal set and props. Their facial expressions are an absolute scream and Joanne Jollies excels as the pompous French player.
Tonight there is nearly a full audience and the cast know they are doing well when the mixed gender spectators respond appreciatively. If you love football, but also love the potential for farce you will adore this.