Hope Theatre, London – until 25 September 2021
Guest reviewer: Debra Stottor
All 50 seats were taken in this tiny upstairs-in-a-pub theatre, and while masks were worn, it felt odd rubbing shoulders, quite literally, with strangers after all this time. But good. And we were treated to a rollicking 85 minutes of insight into the mind of the football obsessive.
Those of a certain age will no doubt recall Nick Hornby’s memoir of his love of Arsenal and the gap it filled in his youth, and this stage adaptation captures the passion, the hope, the highs and the lows beautifully.
Jack Trueman in the role of Nick portrays the awkward teenager, developing into an equally awkward young man, depressed but always happy when thinking of his beloved team, always up to date with the minutiae of the team and the transfers.
The remaining three cast members – Ashley Gerlach, Gabrielle MacPherson and Louise Hoare – between them play the multitude of people involved in Nick’s life: sister, stepsister, parents, friends, girlfriends, the crowd, the commentator, all deftly done with a swift change of Arsenal shirt or the addition of a scarf.
Directed by Kennedy Bloomer, the outgoing artistic director whose tenure started just as the pandemic hit, Fever Pitch is her first and last in-house production.
This is an adaptation done with affection and good humour, and despite the small numbers on stage, the audience could really feel the adrenalin rush and noise of the terraces. Personally, the retelling of the last game of the 1988/9 season took me right back to that fateful moment in the closing moments, and I nearly cried all over again at the result (a clue: I wasn’t on the same side as Nick).
A love of football – ideally the red side of north London – would definitely help to enjoy this play, but the universal themes of obsession, alienation and comradeship mean there’s plenty here for anyone to enjoy, and the script offers plenty of laughs as well as emotion. An enjoyable evening all round.
Arsenal Football Club have committed to maintaining existing links with the theatre, and will bring some of the community groups it works with – who might not otherwise have access to arts and culture – into The Hope Theatre to see Fever Pitch. The Hope Theatre will also be releasing 10% of all tickets for Fever Pitch free to residents of Islington.
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