Sweet F.A. is nominally a play about football. Don’t be put off by its categorisation as an historical drama on the Fringe website as it is exactly that, but it’s also a whole lot more. To be found on a purpose-built set, sheltered by one of the covered stands at Tynecastle Stadium, it also boasts one of this Fringe’s more unusual venues.
It’s 1916 in Edinburgh. Most of the men are away fighting in the First World War. Women are presented with the first opportunity many of them have had to work, be part of a team and earn an independent income.
The Suffragettes are campaigning for the vote while many women are still reeling from finding themselves in suddenly empty houses, their previous purpose removed. Capitalising on their sudden spare time, female factory football teams spring up across the country, raising money for the war effort, much to the disgruntlement and even outrage of the football authorities.
Sweet F.A. tells the story of one women’s factory football team from Fountainbridge and the struggles – personal and political – of its players. It depicts the tension between these women’s fear for the brothers and husbands and sons who’d been sent to fight and the dawning pleasure of a more independent existence. It’s a funny, feisty play with songs, courtesy of Matthew Brown and they’re brilliantly rousing songs at that:
“We started our own football teams and showed them how to play /
But when we ask for equal rights we’re given Sweet F.A.”
Some of the music is pre-recorded but we also have two on-stage musicians (Jo Difford, Elspeth Turner) as part of the cast of nine. The script, written by Paul Beeson and Tim Barrow, is a nice mix of narration and live action. Heather Cochrane does a particularly good job of navigating the two acting styles. The cast is compelling across the board but Ria McLeod as the dutiful Daisy and Rachel Millar as the newly liberated Alice are both beautifully realised characters. And Turner‘s self-important Football Association toff is a delight. Bruce Strachan‘s pacey direction scoops the ball into the back of the net.
This is a new play from the team that produced the acclaimed A War of Two Halves at the Fringe in 2018 and 2019. It’s a ballsy, boisterous, brilliant production that’s maybe a touch too long but the cast are having such fun that it seems impertinent to complain.