Written by Lorna Martin and both directed and performed by Maureen Carr, Rose tells the story of the most celebrated Scottish footballer you’ve never heard of – Rose Reilly.
Eden Court’s Onetouch Theatre is an intimate, fitting venue for Witsherface‘s one-woman-show, which merges the traditional monologue with storytelling and impressive impersonation. It’s a windy, autumnal, and dark evening and the audience’s quiet chat competes with a soundtrack dominated by powerful female singers. That is until there is a shift of tempo and Simon and Garfunkel’s Bridge over Troubled Water puts the audience in a more reflective frame of mind. This will be a story of female power, yes, but also one of challenges and obstacles to overcome.
The stage is set in the manner of a changing room, a gauze-covered wooden frame on each side, from which the central tunnel leads to a packed stadium. It is untidily strewn with plastic water bottles and mismatched kit and lit in a blue wash, and the ordinary benches and hooks contrast sharply with the grand view of cheering crowds in the distance.
And we are off. Carr begins her delivery against a cacophony of noise – more specifically, a press event at Hampden where the Scottish women who played a 1971 match against England – in defiance of an SFA ban on women’s football – were subsequently awarded their caps and hailed pioneers and trailblazers. Righteous anger vibrates in the still theatre air but soon a comical impersonation of a pompous SFA official gets the first belly laughs from the audience and we know we are in safe hands for the hour.
The actress seamlessly dances through a line of characters: Reilly’s protective mammy who detests her daughter’s passion for football; the judgmental factory owner; the gallous sidekick; the French talent scout; the cigar-smoking sports journalist – we can picture them all. Crucially, there is warmth in all of her portrayals, a rich painting of the society that shaped such a determined young sportswoman.
Granted, it is a small scale production, but the use of space, levels, lighting, and sound provide that one essential ingredient of an enjoyable performance – surprise. All technical prowess aside, the true story underpinning this performance is the real star of the show; it is compelling, poignant, and triumphant in equal measure. Prevented from pursuing her passion, teenage Reilly left Scotland for the continent where her achievements are still unrivalled to this day.
The play is unashamedly polemic – yes, it is shameful that Scotland chose to keep a ban on women’s football when all of Europe had long lifted it. Retrospective recognition is too little, too late. But don’t be fooled, for this is more than an angry tirade – it is a tour de force of entertainment, making the audience care about things they didn’t know they wanted to know. Should you get a ticket? To use Rose’s motto: Don’t think. Just do.