Oh When The Saints – Perth Horsecross

Written by Martin McCormick

Directed by Martin McCormick & Lu Kemp

Rating: 4 out of 5.

It’s the big day. 2014, the first-ever Scottish cup final for St. Johnstone, Perth. And if you happened to have tickets for the match at Celtic Park, well, you’d be a bloody fool to miss it.

Bobby is one such fool.

Sweet F.A, 1902, A War of Two Halves – the frequently erroneous, and frankly elitist, idea of the separation of arts and sport has all but dissipated in recent years. And thankfully continuing to shatter the gatekeeping associated with theatre and football, writer and director Martin McCormick’s Oh When The Saints does tremendous work to encourage the spirit of Perthshire back into the stalls and spread those wide blue wings of the county across Scotland. 

But back to Bobby. Bobby, it seems, thinks he’s a bad omen, and why the team always lose. Though we’re never explicitly told where the issues stem, there’s an openness with long-time Saintee and Perth theatre veteran Colin McCredie’s performance, which channels McCormick’s less stringent text. It enables anyone, though particularly the men of the audience, to empathise with Bobby, to recognise that when anxieties and stresses pile up, there isn’t always an understandable or justifiable reason for actions. But climbing up a mountain with your brother and nieces’ cup final tickets in your back pocket is up there with the daftest of decisions.

And Helen agrees. Helen, you see, is also climbing the mountain, but Helen does this for separate reasons than escaping the match. A way to take time away from her everyday life. McCormick and Lu Kemp’s character-building tells us even less of Helen, but the sincerity Lorna Craig channels makes her an absolute delight to watch.

She’s the best part of the play’ – and though played for laughs, there’s truth in the chorus’s statements concerning Craig, who provides an additional element of depth to the production, and an access point for the non-Saints initiated.

And that’s an element of the beauty of McCormick’s script, that despite the show’s local appeal and spirit – the subject matter and experiences stretch across Scotland. Fundamentally, it’s about community. And though the specifics of the show centre on the grounds and Saints supporters, Oh When the Saints channels its story to the Perth community. A story about family, connections, and the communal celebration of the moments we come together and focus on. And therefore, when a detachment occurs through the narrative, it’s wholly felt through the audience, a pang of familiarity as we recognise we too have failed loved ones.

Emphasising this, Greer Montgomery is an additional access point for audiences, her vigour and passion for the game only tempered (eventually) with the realisation of what time has been lost with her dad, and the value of this weighed against any ticket. Along with Tom McGovern as dad Del, the pair are the foundations of the story, a wealth of comedic turns and explosive outbursts all too familiar.

Under the hammering beat of Alan Penman’s musical direction, Oh When the Saints drums itself into an emotional frenzy in moments, tripping itself on its bootlaces with the impressive cast of over 20, before McCormick and Lu Kemps’ direction steers it back on track. And though elements are left undisclosed to reflect a more authentic sense of trust and trauma, aspects of the script could do with a touch more disclosure.

Ramshackle, transitioning from those primary-coloured stadium seating into the lofty tops of the Perthshire mountains, Emily James’s stage design forms numerous levels for the narrative to unfold. With Helen and Bobby at the top of the climb, struggling, while Wendy and her father, Del, have battles of their own. It hones focus where necessary, providing the ensemble front row seats to the goings-on of the cast, a classical Grecian chorus vibe as the judges and fates of the story unfolding around them.

Expectantly, shots are fired at all aspects of the nation’s obsessive (and compulsive) adoration of the sport, leading to in-jokes, local gags and the occasional bone is thrown to unfamiliar audiences. But the descent into Scotland’s other favourite pastime, Pantomime, with the Ugly Sisters of Scotland, is characterised by two awfy sweet lassies from Glasgow who take time out of their day to visit the farmers and the little people.

They come marching in alright, as that familiar tone of Stuart Crosgrove rings across the Horsecross Theatre as guest announcer, there’s an aura unfelt in a theatre for many a moon – something which transcends the space itself and encapsulates the entire city. Oh When The Saints pulls at the heartstrings of those local to the theatre, but there’s a more powerful presence at work. McCormick’s production communicates with more than the mind, but with the body of community – thundering a contemporary football fairy-tale with raucous laughter, to appreciative Saints fans, Theatre alumni, and a proud and dedicated neighbourhood.

‘Marching to success for Community’

Oh When The Saints runs at the Perth Horsecross Theatre until June 18th.

Tickets for which may be obtained here.

Photo Credit – Alastair More

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