Sweet F.A – Tynecastle Park

Written by Paul Beeson and Tim Barrow

Directed by Bruce Strachan

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Earlier this year across Scotland, thousands of fans descended into the streets to celebrate the Scottish team qualifying for the European Championship for the first time in nearly twenty-five years. Chaos broke out, restrictions were violated, and a debate surrounding the beautiful game reignited again as tempers flared and tears were shed.

If only they had known that Scotland had already qualified in 2017, but Women’s Football doesn’t count – does it?

Alice, a young woman caring for her father while her brothers are away at the front, takes up a job in a Rubber factory in Edinburgh. Desperate for a drop of something to ease her woes, Alice meets Daisy in a local boozer, where they also hear of a job offer. Encouraging her newfound pal Daisy to sign-up with her – the two are soon connected, making friends with the remainder of the factory.

Factory workers, rights activists, and survivors – the women of Edinburgh were already championing one another and maintaining the war effort by replacing the men within the factories, making rubber, bullets, metals and such. And every factory needed something to blow off steam, to forget for a short burst of time the nightmares surrounding them. Thus, friendly games of football emerged from lunch breaks, into charity matches, and soon were captivating a nation at war. But soon, these women had an additional fight on their hands – a fight to allow them to continue playing the Beautiful Game.

Sweet F.A was a Fringe buzz, especially following its brother production A War of Two Halve’s monstrous success in 2019. And this witty, measured and vehement story of women, their rights, and the sacrifices made is a near perfectly-pitched production and thank you.  

If you’ve come for subtlety, you’re likely not a follower of Scottish Football. For the crimes it could potentially commit, Sweet F.A embraces the melodramatic soap-opera angle as freely as it encompasses a more subdued nature. Blending the chanting of adrenaline-fuelled matches with the spontaneous connection of musical theatre, Paul Beeson and Tim Barrow craft an upbeat and intimate production with plenty of welly.

Lyrically, the pair and Matthew Brown’s musical direction conjures a factotum of spectacularly remarkable musical numbers, each with a distinct sense of self and narrative continuance. The songs are vibrant, with a diverse range of intimate ballads to a traditional vaudeville villain’s number for the gluttonous, miserable, though snazzily dressed Shady Football Association (No relation to the SFA…). Jodie Differ’s accompaniment with live music is a welcome addition, a presence that enables clarity over the wind and rustle of the gargantuan stadium.

Confined to the stage, utilising a section of the stands and Eve Murray’s stage design, Stephanie Arsoska infuses limited choreography within the musical numbers. Enough to distinguish the momentum and tie a closer relationship with the football angle. The sequence of matches, factory production lines and creative avenues make tremendous work of the space, imbuing a bouncing sense of momentum which tightens up as the narrative furthers – in tandem with the player’s skills on the pitch.

To the japes and jeers of the crowds, there’s this peculiar reaction to Women’s Football, a staple of popularity besmirched by a history of banishment, restriction, and concealment. Sweet F.A’s writing has fangs and is unafraid to hold those accountable to a satirical smacking. Delivered with eloquence and fire, Heather Cochrane demonstrates marvellous control of a crowd as the Gaffer Helen, garbed in Natasha Murray’s clean and world-building costume. 

As various generations of women come together with a common purpose and goal, the tangible connection is evident from the entirety of the cast. And naturally incorporating the queer-coded nature of character development, subverting the audience’s preconceptions without pedestalling the progression of roles or evolving sexuality.

A tremendous part of this lies within the natural talents of performance from the cast, our leads Alice and Dasiy are in exceedingly talented hands with Rachel Millar and Ria Macleod. Laura Harvey and Heather Horsman have a particularly warming presence, tying the group together with light-hearted humour and impassioned remarks – while the firecracker tenacity of Elspeth Turner and Lucy Pederson stokes the fires in the audience for a raucous laugh and fighting spirit.

And though in dribbles the performance nature and direction can be as subtle as Lord Dundee, forgiveness can be bestowed given the spectacular evening ahead. A celebration of the beautiful game, with a stance resisting the gatekeeper of the sport – Sweet F.A is as sparkling a piece of musical theatre as it is a rallying call of women’s rights, value and artistic and sporting diversity.

Sweet F.A kicks off at 15.00pm and 19.30pm from August 5th – 30th. Tickets are available from here.

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