Easter Road to make Fringe debut with Hibs play

It has seen shows staged in pubs, public toilets, allotments, telephone boxes and even the back of a taxi.

Sunday, 26th March 2017, 10:32 pm
Updated Saturday, 8th April 2017, 10:28 pm
Steve Small's theatre company Strange Town will be staging its stage play on the origins of Hibs at Easter Road.
Steve Small's theatre company Strange Town will be staging its stage play on the origins of Hibs at Easter Road.

Now the Edinburgh Festival Fringe is set to break new ground with a play inside a football stadium.

Easter Road, the historic home of Hibernian, will play host to a brand new production which will be staged in the concourse of one its stands.

A pop-up theatre will be created for the play, which will chart the origins of the club, which has its roots in the city’s Irish community, and the first 50 years of its existence.

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Diehard fans will get the chance to take part by joining a new community choir being formed for the show, or auditioning for 20 acting roles.

Up to 150 people are expected to watch each performance of the show during the Fringe’s second week, which will have to be scheduled to accommodate any home matches.

The play is being developed by a Leith-based theatre company, Strange Town, which won huge acclaim for a show created to mark the 100th anniversary of the Gretna rail disaster, the majority of victims of which were from an army regiment based in Leith.

Hibs were formed in 1875 out of a Catholic Young Men’s Society set up 10 years earlier by Father Joseph Hannan, a priest at St Patrick’s Church in the Cowgate, in 1875, to help tackle social problems in the area. It was known as Little Ireland, due to an estimated 25,0000 immigrants living in its over-crowded slums.

Father Hannan was approached by one of the members of the St Patrick’s branch of the society, Michael Whelahan, who had been watching football being played on the Meadows, with the idea of creating a new club.

The priest liked it so much he agreed to manage the new outfit, named after the Roman name for ireland, who would go on to play their first ever match on the Meadows, against their future arch-rivals Heart of Midlothian, formed the previous year, on Christmas Day 1875.

The play has emerged from GameChanger, a new “social partnerhship” initiative set up by Hibs, its community foundation and NHS Lothian.

Steve Small, creative director of Strange Town, said: “We were initially offered the chance to do the play in the middle of the pitch at Easter Road, but I didn’t think a stadium rock-type thing would really work.

"When the club said they had found a space in the stadium I was imagining a dusty room full of old football boots and deflated balls.

"But we went up and had a look at the space under the east stand. It’s brilliant for a theatre show - it’s like the inside of a long Toblerone.

“Hibs have been incredibly supportive and positive. One of the selling points for the choir and the cast is that we’re going to be able to rehearse the show at Easter Road, as well as giving us the space for the performances.

“You can be in Leith and feel completely disengaged with the Fringe. As someone who works in theatre, you want to be involved, but it is such a financial risk for companies.

“I’m really interested in seeing if we can get that cross-over audience that are into both football and theatre.”

A Hibs spokesman said: “GameChanger is all about harnessing the collective expertise of organisations, and combining it with the unique ability of football to reach into communities to deliver projects aimed at tackling social and health inequalities and improving social justice.

“To that end we discussed the possibility of creating a community play, to run during the Fringe, which would tell the still relevant story of the history of Hibernian, rooted as it is in immigration and integration.

“We’re all excited not only about the play, and the way we hope it will engage the community, but also about the things we hope might flow from it, such as community drama and singing.”