Reviewed – 2nd September 2021
“With Martha Godfrey’s lighting and Kristina Kapilin’s sound design, we are always in the moment of this thrilling production”
It’s practically thirty years now since Nick Hornby’s career defining book, “Fever Pitch”, was first published. I didn’t get around to reading it myself until later, already familiar with Hornby’s style from, among others, ‘High Fidelity’ which charted the failed relationships of a neurotic record collector. I could relate to that. Football, though, was a different beast entirely. My wilful ignorance of the ‘beautiful game’ was always a factor that pushed the book down my reading list. It was an unfounded prejudice. “Fever Pitch” is about football, but at the same time it isn’t. Yes, it’s a memoir about Hornby’s two decades as a football moron (his words!) but moreover it is an ode to obsession, depression, and the human condition; and whatever walk of life we are ambling along there is something we can all identify with. Although football is the main story, it is also just the backdrop to a life story.
Joel Samuels’ adaptation skilfully condenses the book into just under ninety minutes, without going into extra time. It is a lot to fit in, but Kennedy Bloomer directs from the touch lines with an economy of style that faithfully covers most of the ground, while certainly putting her team through the paces. Jack Trueman is the undoubted captain here, as narrator Nick. With a convivial charisma he also captures the geeky monomania, aware of but powerless against the effects his obsession has on his life. “I fell in love with football as I was later to fall in love with women: suddenly, inexplicably, uncritically, giving no thought to the pain or disruption it would bring with it”. Trueman has a lot of words to deal with, but he rarely drops the ball. If he does, he gives a cheeky wink to the audience and ploughs on. The multi rolling cast move around him, switching characters in the blink of an eye, substituting mothers for daughters for girlfriends for fathers for brothers for teammates for commentators for friends for fans for hooligans… You get the drift. Ashley Gerlach, Louise Hoare, and Gabrielle MacPherson are equally marvellous in their versatility, digging deep into their treasure chest of accents, characters and emotional kaleidoscope. There are some hilarious moments of gender-blind role playing, particularly Gerlach’s brilliant female impersonations.
The rapid-fire delivery is spot on for the stage, but what is perhaps inevitable is that sometimes the finer nuances of Hornby’s writing are forfeited. There are some unforgettable moments in the book, particularly when Hornby describes the tragedies of Heysel and Hillsborough, that lose their poignancy in this retelling. However, for these aspects to be fully explored and given the respect they warrant, it would probably require a whole other show of their own. Similarly, there is a lot of talk about ‘filling a hole’ to explain away the mind-set of the obsessive and depressive personality. But again, this is another show, and Samuels has made the right editorial choices. His eye is on the entertainment value, and he certainly scores on that level. This production captures too the self-deprecation inherent in Hornby’s original. When Trueman bemoans that being white, middle class and suburban is the worst category to fit into, we laugh but are aware of where our sympathies should lie. The attacks on sexism and racism are made more pertinent using comedy as its podium.
With Martha Godfrey’s lighting and Kristina Kapilin’s sound design, we are always in the moment of this thrilling production. It is often panoramic in the way it shows us how much times have changed over the past decades, but it also hones in on home truths in an intimate and quite loopy way. It is meditative one minute and raucous the next. You can reflect and cheer at the same time – which makes this production quite unique. Whether you love or hate football, there’s much to love in this production of “Fever Pitch”.
Reviewed by Jonathan Evans
Photography by Ali Wright
Hope Theatre until 25th September
Jonathan’s reviews this year: