by Diana Miranda
Satire Sky Theatre brings back 1902, an immersive theatre piece by Nathan Scott-Dunn, for the fourth consecutive year. 1902 flashes across the tumult of the fringe in Edinburgh’s Old Town to strike a goal at Leith Arches, a venue with more local atmosphere. The action takes place at the Dog and Duck pub in 2016, where four football enthusiasts (Scott-Dunn, Alexander Arran-Cowan, Josh Brock, and Cameron Docker) gather around a large table to prepare for the Scottish Cup Final. The audience steps into the pub turned into an in-the-round stage, under a brick archway with the bar to one side and an industrial staircase that might as well be a stadium’s grandstand.
Sands Stirling and Scott-Dunn’s co-direction make this performance launch headfirst into football culture’s frenzy. Carried away by sheer excitement after more than a century since the Heebs’ last victory, Derek (Scott-Dunn) goes too far to get the gang tickets and borrows money from local gangster Craig Turnbull (Jonny Tulloch). As the group struggles to find a way to pay him back, Deek’s past comes back to poke him when his brother Tony (Stirling) seems like the best ally to find a way out.
1902 starts as a story of football fanaticism and gradually adds a layer of domestic drama about young working-class men, with Deek’s story as the leading thread. It addresses a sense of restricted opportunities, disjointed families and alcoholism. A façade of defiance and bravado remains throughout the show, but there is a poignant note relying on notions of brotherhood, camaraderie and loyalty.
The show exhibits exacerbated masculinity through exaggerated, stylised acting, making the performance as fierce as it is amusing. Tulloch and Stirling strike visceral displays of bravado as the cocky troublemakers, walking around the table as sharks circle prey. On the other hand, the audience giggles along with Docker’s frantic laughter and cartoon-like nervousness as he plays Zippy. When Frankie (Brock) takes the corner, he scores with an outrageously funny naivety that causes the gang all sorts of trouble; some jokes don’t land among the audience, but that doesn’t diminish the overall cheerfulness in the show. Contributing to that upbeat tone, there’s Mags (Ella Stokes), the tough barmaid from the south who speaks (or rather yells) with the strangest of accents, coming across as deliberately unintelligible for the audience’s amusement.
When Arran-Cowan (playing Sambo) gets the pass, he approaches the team with a less heightened performance as the sensible, even-tempered friend. Interestingly, his strike floats over the head of his team-mates, which evidences that the show relies mostly on a display of masculinity. The same happens with Scott-Dunn, who also approaches a more realistic style but that, as the leading role, keeps control of the ball despite moving away from exaggerated physicality.
The high energy in the cast can’t be stressed enough. Anyone who wishes to take it easy as the restrictions lift may feel wary as the immersive piece flashes the audience with scenes of pumped-up cheering and angry shrieking. From the mezzanine, interventions by Sandy Bain give the show a musical uplift.
The show draws on the sense of community and sheer enthusiasm, all too familiar with football culture. The more you put in this show, the more you’ll get out of it, so surely enough the energy boost that football fans get from 1902 will strike a goal from the kick-off whistle to its exhilarating ending.
1902 runs through 30 August.
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