Freedom Fields – The Filmhouse

Writer, Director and Cinematography by Naziha Arebi

Libya/UK Run Time: 97 Mins

The beautiful game. For oh so many of us, it’s a lifelong love. A trip to the pub with some friends, or maybe even a casual end of evening catch-up. Even for non-fans, it’s extensive reach makes us all fans for global events. Freedom Fields, a documentary by director and cinematographer Naziha Arebi looks for people we have never met, where football symbolises something inherently different.

As you read, the FIFA 2019 Women’s World Cup is underway. Experiencing a higher viewership and receiving a coverage worthy of its athletes. Across the nation, many are joining together to support a sisterhood of the players. In Libya, this echoes closer, going far beyond a professional level. For these women, this time on the sparse patches of grass is a breathing space, a freedom from the war, bullets and slog of their day to day endurance.

Arebi’s piece is told in three parts, adding a base three-act structure to the documentary, helping pace the film. To begin, we have hope. Hope that following the Libyan Civil War of 2011 and the death of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, Libya would achieve a renewed moral axis. That a Western influence of democracy, gender equality and freedom would occur. We follow a group of women, as Arebi documents their lives, both on and off the pitch. For over a decade they have been Libya’s only national team of female footballers. They have, however, never been authorised to play a match.

The second and third acts follow the course of the next four years as we come to discover the cracks in this hope, failures of the government and backlash of religious bodies against the women. Some of the finer, more subtle editing occurs in these parts. As the streets of Libya whizz by, the glints of rhinestone and wedding dresses are repeated. Reminders to the expectations that many of these women face, as they say; ‘we are born to marry’.

An impressive backlog of suffering is kept at arm’s length from the camera to irregular effect. It makes for intense drama, snapping our attention, but conceals background pain we are aware of. Arebi’s cinematography is superb, the vivid colours of optimism, vastly contrast the sudden plunges into maddening darkness as Militia cut the electricity. Knowing precisely where to draw our attention, but we want to get to know these women more intimately. Never receiving a face to face interaction or interview makes for authenticity but neglects insight into a region which many audience members won’t fully comprehend.

What little atrocities we do focus on are handled tastefully, especially in terms of sound design. Giovanni Buccomino’s construct for the film is fitting, with North African themes throughout, including heavy reliance on Anasheed religious singing. As one woman attempts to make her way into Tunisia, the camera cuts. We hear implications of threats, requesting to talk with her male guardian. The dread lingers as we know she has none. Tastefully, the backing score fades, silence is thus utilised with enormous respect to heighten the tension.

The climax is not a grand victory for the team, nor is it the calming of Libya’s climate. Arebi captures the looks on the young girl’s faces as they see a training ground, run by the past players of Fadwa’s 11. Doctors, Accountants and mothers now help to educate and train a generation of players, medics and hopeful presidents. Freedom Fields is an intimate documentary, focusing on these women and their fight to be recognised amidst oppression. It looks for sisterhood, equality but far more importantly – future.

Review originally published for The Wee Review:

Film availblae for purchase and still showing in limited screenings:

Club Tropicana – The Playhouse, Edinburgh

Writer: Michael Gyngell

Director: Samuel Holmes & Nick Winston

It’s June, the weather in Scotland is, well, Scottish. So where can you get guaranteed sunshine, sea and Joe McElderry? Club Tropicana: The Musical – that’s where. From the producers of Hairspray, Club Tropicana sets itself in a holiday resort in the 80s, a decade famous for big hair, wide shoulders pads, but more importantly fantastic music.

The inevitable happens in the land of romantic-comedy musicals, someone is left at the altar. Shocking, I know. Encouraged by the single worst ‘friend’ in any show, Lorraine has cold feet before the wedding. Rather than lose out on the honeymoon, Lorraine and her pals travel to Club Tropicana. A great idea so great her ex-fiancé has the same plan. Meanwhile, Club Tropicana is at risk of poor press from a hotel inspector. Misunderstandings occur, hearts are broken and mended, and we have a sea of musical numbers. It’s a cookie-cutter jukebox musical. It’s kitsch, extremely predictable, but it is enjoyable.

Making Your Mind Up, Just Can’t Get Enough and PhysicalClub Tropicana has fab taste in eighties music. Using them to their fullest to get the blood pumping in Edinburgh, so much so that we can forgive weak vocals from cast members. While no one performs poorly, a select few are flatter than would be expected. That though is not the case for Joe McElderry, Cellen Chugg Jones and Kate Robbins. Chugg Jones, playing Olly is the one-dimensional fiancé of all romantic jukebox productions. He does, however, have a charming delivery, and a set of pipes which are hideously underused. His duet of A-Ha’s classic gem Take on Me with Karina Hind is a surprise as he hits the high notes.

On the subject of vocals, McElderry is in his element as usual. His abilities are understandably the strongest in the cast, with one lovely lady belting out ahead on occasion, but more on her later. His charged presence is part of why Club Tropicana works, falling into the danger zone a few times, but McElderry’s bouncing personality keeps the club afloat. Gearing the audience up to dance, sing and laugh along with the show – it is in large part to McElderry that the production works.

Oh Consuela, you wonderful woman you. Kate Robbins completely owns the stage for every moment she appears. We long for it, quite often waiting for her character’s next appearance. The miserable cleaner, bellhop, chef and part-time diva comes equipped with all of Robbins’ tremendous range of talents. Her vocals surpass a number of the performers, her comedic prowess, the best on stage. Her mimicry, physically and vocally for the likes of Dolly Parton and The Iron Lady herself is deserving of praise.

Her praise is deserved, but even Robbins’ is subject to confused writing. At some point, two productions of Club Tropicana were floating around the room. One an above average Jukebox musical, taking risqué jokes and pushing them to the nth degree to tremendous effect. The other is a sub-par romantic comedy with cheap gags. For some reason, writer Michael Gyngell mixes these and we have a show which has toilet humour and predictable plots littering an otherwise enjoyable production.

So, is Club Tropicana bringing anything fresh to the genre? No. Does it move away from tired stereotypes? No… Is it attempting to be something it isn’t? Certainly not. Club Tropicana knows precisely what it is, which is fun with a cheesy, glittery and humongous capital ‘F’. So pop on those socks and sandals, slather on some factor 50, down a few slippery nipples and bask in the ridiculousness that is Club Tropicana.

Review originally published for Reviews Hub:

549: Scots of the Spanish Civil War

Writers: Jack Nurse and Robbie Gordon

Director: Jack Nurse

We’ve all been down the pub with this motley crew; ‘the weeman’, ‘the radge’, a ‘non-voter’ and of course, ‘the Tory’. For these pals, this is a usual evening in the seaside town of Prestonpans. They do what all friends do; drink, banter, swear and snipe at one another. They complain about the state of the country, blaming one another’s political alliances or lack thereof. A hallowed reminder of the past, an all too forgotten war, draws them to hear of a mighty similar group of men from their companion Ellen.

In 1936, across Scotland, a collection of 549 men, some entirely different in their religion, class, ideology, found one common purpose: Equality and Freedom, no matter the nation. They would make for Spain and form the Scottish regiment of the International Brigade during the Spanish Civil War.

Wholly intimate, the production thrives on a smaller stage. The aggressive fire in the boys’ eyes has to be seen up close, any further and we would lose the quivers of fear in these young men. Jack Nurse’s direction puts the action as close to the audience as possible. Tables, chairs and crates which have previously made up the bar become barricades. Coasters are passports, and the lads take up arms with pool cues to make for inventive prop usage.

549: Scots of the Spanish Civil War is a production reliant on solid performers. It requires a connection, which Wonder Fools easily achieve. All of our performers portray two characters, their modern selves and a past counterpart. Such as Josh Whitelaw’s Jock, his modern self an irritated young man who cares for his mother. His past reflection, a man who strives for fresh air but has explosive bursts of repressed rage. Whitelaw gives a gut-wrenching performance, as do Robbie Gordon and Rebekah Lumsden.

As Ellen, barkeep and partial narrator, Lumsden has the task of setting our story in motion. Establishing the narrative well, her manner of delivery is humorous and earthy. She plays off the lads incredibly, going between friend, mother-figure and source of blunt honesty. Being at her wits end with Jimmy (Nicholas Ralph), she bridges the gaps in character development, so it doesn’t feel forced.

Lyrics and storytelling chain this production to memories, keeping it from being a ghost story. The song components offer a feeling of camaraderie. The rendition of a miners tune, sung in the round is breath-taking, but all the more haunting as we know learn fates.

While the majority of the scripting feels natural, there are a few situations in which they exaggerate for comedic effect. They stray just a tad too far from believable to dramatic. The only other hitch is one of pacing, Nurse and Robbie Gordon’s script could have been ten minutes shorter or extended into a Two Act production. There’s a split – for the history buffs, there’s a glossing over of the complexities of Spain’s Republic, for a general theatre-going audience what politics we cover is slows momentum.

549: Scots of The Spanish Civil War is not only a reminder of the past, but it’s also a staunch punch to the gut that the issues we suffer today are not dissimilar to previous generations. That despite differences from vocal minorities, now more than ever, the bad blood between young and old shouldn’t sour. That quite often we work for the same goals, especially in the fight of freedom, equality and our European neighbours.

Review originally published for Reviews Hub:

Production touring:

Image contribution: Mihaela Bodlovic