Told through narration, choral speaking, and song, Sweet F.A. follows the story of seven women working at the North British Rubber Company during the First World War, who decide to start a football team to raise money for the soldiers. Performed in the beautiful grounds of Tynecastle Park, home to Midlothian Football Club, it tells a male-dominated period of history from a female perspective.
More of a ‘play with songs’ than a musical, Sweet F.A. achieves a good balance between educational and musical theatre. It seems that education was a crucial goal for writers Paul Beeson and Tim Barrow; although some might prefer a more subtle method of exposition, the narratory style makes the piece very easy to follow for an audience made up of football fans, theatre fans and children. The original score by Matthew Brown is the epitome of ‘simple yet effective’. Played beautifully by two onstage actor-musicians, the music is slightly repetitive, but quickly gets stuck in your head as it is so catchy.
Undeniably, the most impressive part of this production is its location; a custom-built stage is attached to one of the main stands at Tynecastle Park, giving the audience a breathtaking backdrop as they watch the show. As soon as I walked in and saw the football stadium, I gasped—it really is a sight to behold, and adds a lovely authenticity to the performance.
The camaraderie of the cast is tangible. You can clearly tell that they love performing this show, which is especially important in Fringe theatre. Watching a team of women working together to tell a story that they care so much about is truly an inspiring and heartwarming experience, and is made even better by the choral energy of the actors. When it comes to individual performances, Ria McLeod and Rachel Millar have great chemistry as protagonists and love interests Daisy and Alice. Heather Cochrane and Laura Harvey steal the audience’s hearts as Helen and Mo, the mother figures to the other women.
Using parallels with 2021, such as Covid’s similarities to the Spanish Flu epidemic of 1918, and the lack of appreciation and support for women’s football, This Is My Story Productions consolidates Sweet F.A. as an important and relevant piece of theatre, with a poignancy that resonates today.
A bittersweet final scene leaves the audience full of hope and contemplation. Each performer takes a turn to list an achievement in women’s football, such as Rose Reilly being the only Scottish player to ever win the World Cup. The play finishes on a happy medium between celebration and lamentation, which sums up its entire message; we have come so far but still have so far to go—although female players are no longer given ‘sweet FA’, their support in comparison with their male counterparts is appalling.
Theatre about football isn’t new (see: Bend it Like Beckham, The Beautiful Game, Jumpers for Goalposts), and neither is ‘site-specific’ theatre, but Sweet F.A. is testament to what can happen if the world of sports and the arts come together.
Words by Francesca Lynn.
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