Festival Diary: Shady goings on at Tynecastle raise the laughs

Ever since it was announced, there has been a buzz surround Sweet FA, the story recalling the emergence of workplace women’s football teams during the First World War and the opposition they encountered.

Saturday, 14th August 2021, 4:55 am

That has only grown as audiences and critics have raved about Paul Beeson and Tim Barrow’s musical theatre show, which is played out on a specially-constructed stage in the main stand of Tynecastle Park, home of Heart of Midlothian Football Club.

While there are many moving moments in the show, there were also plenty laughs, not least at the regular lampooning of the SFA, named in the show as the “Shady Football Authority,” for its underhand tactics and general chicanery to ban women’s football.

There were clever parallels in the script with the modern-day game, including the dubious voting tactics of the hapless Lord Dundee, a nod to the club that notoriously consigned Hearts to relegation during the pandemic during a crucial vote.

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Sweet FA is being staged at Tynecastle Park. Picture: Simon Messer

I could not help, but notice that Ann Budge, the owner of Hearts, was definitely able to see the funny side as she watched over proceedings.

Festival shows are undoubtedly offering a release for many who have felt trapped at home for months on end.

But the football-themed play being staged on the other side of the city offered an unexpected twist for audience members enjoying their new-found freedom.

Leith Arches definitely offers a throwback to the days of in-your-face, in-the-round theatre, with its hosting of 1902, which focuses on a group of young Hibs fans who become increasingly desperate in their ill-advised quest to secured coveted Scottish Cup Final tickets.

Before the performance, ticketholders are warned to remain in their seats and avoid even going to the toilet for their own safety. It soon becomes clear why as the action unfolds around and above, at very close quarters after the venue is transformed into the “Dug and Duck”.

Any thoughts of ignoring the pre-show advice are soon put to one side by the terrifying sight and sounds of Mags the barmaid, who would surely leave Trainspotting’s Begbie cowering in a corner.

This year definitely feels like the most environmentally-friendly Fringe in living memory, with hardly a flyer to be seen on the Royal Mile, wall-to-wall posters conspicuous by their absence and little sign of reviews plastered outside venues.

But it was good to see magician Tom Brace, performing at Underbelly’s George Square venue, making the best use of his copy of The Scotsman by ripping up a front page on stage – and then somehow putting it back together again.

Singer-songwriter Adam Holmes, one of many local musicians to have been able to play their first gig in more than a year, admitted he had a lump in his throat at discovering that his favourite watering hole, The Royal Oak, was reopening.

He encouraged his audience at his EICC gig to join him there after his show – but might have had a few less takers after dedicating his Royal Oak-inspired song Mother Oak to one of the pub’s many regular characters, “Davy The Murderer”.

Meanwhile Jason Byrne’s eagle-eye for audience participation is apparently as sharp as ever at new outdoor venue MultiStory, with a local resident watching proceedings from their Castle Terrace flat handed a starring role.