Moorcroft review – bittersweet football comedy is right on target | Theatre


Here is a play that seems custom-built for a mainstage tour. It has popular hit written all over it. A vigorous debut by writer and director Eilidh Loan, it is male-centred working-class comedy in the tradition of Roddy McMillan’s The Bevellers and John Byrne’s The Slab Boys. It is funny yet bittersweet, raucous yet sentimental, angry yet celebratory. If many of its themes feel familiar, it makes for no less of a good night out.

Working in Loan’s favour is the truth of her story. Had this been fiction, she would have had to tone down the litany of tragedies that befall the seven young men who form an amateur football team in 1980s Renfrew, near Paisley. The production is driven by a tremendous life force, not least because of its crisply executed choreography, but the play is stalked by death.

Martin Docherty in Moorcroft.
Looking back … Martin Docherty in Moorcroft. Photograph: John Johnston

Moorcroft is inspired by the recollections of Loan’s father, Garry, 54, a keen footballer in his youth. He is played by Martin Docherty, wiry, fly and fast-talking, as a man looking back at the squad he brought together as a Tuesday-night escape from dreary lives in Thatcher’s Britain.

Loan doesn’t say where fact and fiction meet, but the parka worn on stage by Kyle Gardiner’s bright-eyed Sooty, a young victim of cancer, is the very coat treasured by a real-life friend of her father’s. We can assume the team’s trajectory from optimism to despair distils the experience of many young men struggling against the odds.

Certainly, the play’s themes are real. Loan works in set-piece speeches about race, homosexuality and cancer as she considers the men’s vulnerability to mental illness. Yes, it is convenient that every off-colour remark is countered by an enlightened liberal argument, but Loan’s humanism pushes the play towards a touching portrayal of men who love each other even if they lack the language to say so.

What they do have is the language to cajole, mock and make merry, a characteristic Loan captures brilliantly in a script that is as funny in execution as it is serious in purpose. Happily, this is a team effort and her excellent ensemble power home the goals.

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