@PubTheatres1 Review by Rob Joiner 19.7.15
‘One Year Off’ FRED Theatre
By Forester and Fletcher at Old Joint Stock, Birmingham
‘Well played Fred’
‘A play that hums with novel ideas and assured performances’
What happens when football, the beautiful game, is banned for a year? FRED Theatre (producers of Classic Drama and Contemporary Theatre) show us in ‘One Year Off’ how four different individuals react to the ban imposed by the government in order to raise the country’s Happiness Index.
The premise is a simple one – no one can have anything to do with football for a whole year - and it is set up immediately with no fuss by an audio recording of the news of the ban. We are then treated to what are effectively four spliced monologues as the One Year Off unfolds. We follow four individuals throughout the year to see how they cope with this deprivation. Each of them go on very satisfying journeys as they try to fill the gap left by football.
Sheena Singh is a trainee female referee imprisoned for doing a thousand ‘keepy-uppies’ in protest at the ban but ultimately realises her ambition to referee the first game after the restrictions are lifted. The role is played by Sheetal Kappor who displays enthusiasm and energy in the part. Sheetal delivers most of her performance to a PC, a picture of her sister, or on the telephone but despite this her performance is strong enough to make us want to share her experience.
Kai Kooper is a professional footballer, played with wide eyed confidence by Vincent Gould, with his repeated phrase ‘every day in every way it’s getting better and better’. He is given a job by picking a piece of paper from the purple bag like all footballers and starts a new career not as brain surgeon, midwife or anaesthetist (which is just as well because he can’t even pronounce it) but as an ‘Entrepreneur slash self-starter’. Kai designs an app to capture the Vital Information of people walking the street called ‘Match a Mate’. His is the saddest story because at the end of the One Year Off the authorities decide to have ‘Another Year Off…off the internet this time.’ Kai locks himself in a room making sure his beloved dog won’t be able to lick his face and save him this time…
Nat Archer is West Brom through and through – he even has the pubes of the teams from the 60’s and 70’s in a raisin box as a good luck charm. Nick Owenford plays him robustly and the change from a pint-drinking paint-splashed workman in dungarees to chino wearing TES reading wine drinking fan of the Schools League Tables is both believable and bizarre.
And then there is Ricoh, the Coventry Arena. Benjamin Thorne delivers a slightly schizophrenic performance as he wavers between the automated clipped delivery of what could be a public recording at the venue and the more human side of someone or something in pain and desperation. Thorne’s performance is the most physical as Ricoh stalks the stage hating the ‘bacteria’ (supporters) who invade his space and also yearning for a gallery housing Picasso’s Guernica. He aspires to something better only to be set on fire by a disgruntled football fan – we actually see him burn, choked and consumed by flame and Thorne crumples effectively at the back of the stage. At the end of the play he is once again back to being the host to the beautiful game.
I would have loved to have seen these actors play together, hoping as I was that the characters’ stories would somehow overlap but the writers and director have chosen a form and stuck to it mostly faithfully.
Writing partners Olly Forester and Dom Fletcher, originally teamed up to write and perform sketches across the West Midlands and the economy of the script owes something to the discipline of sketch writing where time can’t be wasted in getting to the next laugh. The duo displays a lovely ear for language and ideas, obviously delighting in creating the very different idioms of each character. They employ some really effective use of profanity for getting laughs but also to highlight emotional pain.
The play unfolds at a brisk pace that is slowed only a little during audio recordings of the news reports on the Year Off so far (and you sense here that Forester and Fletcher are fans of ‘The Day Today’ as we are presented with bogus news items and interviews, some from the wonderfully named Joseph Beans).
I think one of the best compliments you can pay to a director is that his or her direction was unnoticeable and, excepting one or two moments of physical action, director and Artistic Director Robert F Ball manages to remain wonderfully invisible.
At a running time the equivalent of a game of football, with some considerable injury time and without an interval, it is a good length. A fine way to spend an afternoon in what is a gem of a city centre pub theatre.
‘One Year Off’ FRED Theatre By Forester and Fletcher was performed at Old Joint Stock, Birmingham 16-18 July 2015
Reviewer Rob Joiner is a playwright and actor from Birmingham.
He had his first play performed at the Capital Theatre festival, was a winner of the BBC Writers Room Scriptroom 8 and he has an audio play about to be recorded with The Stephen Joseph Theatre.
One Year Off – Old Joint Stock Theatre, BirminghamPosted by: TPR Central in Central, Drama 3 days ago 0 Audience Reviews
Writer: Forrester and Fletcher
Director: Robert F Ball
Reviewer: Selwyn Knight
As we await the beginning of One Year Off, we hear football chants, including some very ugly ones. It seems that the fanatical following of football is depressing the nation’s Happiness Index, so the government takes the unusual step of announcing One Year Off, one year during which all football-related activity will be banned and criminalised, an attempt at a detox to make the nation happier. FRED Theatre has commissioned this piece from writers Oliver Forrester and Dominic Fletcher, a Birmingham based writing duo who cut their teeth writing and performing sketches including, the programme tells us, monologues and duologues including such surreal characters as thuggish thespians and killer pet moths. One Year Off, performed as part of this year’s Birmingham Fest is their first full-length production.
One Year Off follows the fortunes of four midland characters who are defined by football to see how they react to the ban and how they cope. In quick succession we meet Nat Archer (Nick Owenford), a stereotypical football fan who, with his mate, Martin, sets the world to rights over a pint; Kai Kooperonii (Vincent Gould), a Welsh footballer who is relishing a year off to develop his talents away from the game; Sheena Singh (Sheetal Kapoor) who has given up her medical training to become a football referee, with hopes of officiating at premiership matches; and, slightly bizarrely, the Ricoh Arena (Benjamin Thorn), which turns out to have aspirations to be recognised as a quality venue, not just known for football.
As the play progresses, each character reacts differently to their enforced absence from the beautiful game. Nat goes through many of the classic stages of grief, at first railing against the ban. It seems that many people’s happiness indices do improve as more time is spent with the family and Saturday afternoons are freed from tribal associations. But Nat needs something to fill the gap, and eventually finds another local organisation to support with the same single-mindedness that once characterised his following of football. One suspects he might not bother returning after One Year Off. Kai is perhaps the most complex character. He always seems to be slightly manic, slightly edgy as he actively embraces the opportunities presented, although it is not totally clear why he would want to give up his weekly six-figure salary and tun his back on the game. Players and others are encouraged to ‘Play the Larger Game’ and are randomly given other roles to fulfil during the year (selected, of course, by drawing balls from a silk drawstring bag). Kai is allocated ‘Entrepreneur/Self-Starter’ and sets about developing a business idea – apparently with some potential success. Sheena actively works against the ban and is jailed for six months for playing keepy-uppy in public. In a weird twist, the crusty judge cannot quite believe that a woman could ever do that, and so she is sent to a men’s jail, where she continues to work underground, organising the men around her. Ricoh, seeking to host more classy events, welcomes the loss of football as an income stream. A casino and gallery are opened there, but how might fanatical Coventry City supporters react to the change of usage?
Forrester and Fletcher’s experience of writing monologues and duologues is clear in the play’s structure: essentially, this is four long monologues, occasionally seen as half of a conversation with an unseen other. Although conversations, for example, between Kai and his father or Sheena and her family, are reported, they don’t actually take place before us. The four characters never interact, and the actors spend a lot of time not participating as one of the others holds centre-stage. A potential opportunity for actors to slip into other roles as necessary to fill out some of these conversations and add some light and shade has been missed. In addition, the whole feels long. Each character has an epiphany, but it feels as if the journey to it is perhaps a bit laboured.
The whole cast do a good job with the material they have. Owenford presents the most rounded character, while Thorne effectively takes us through the range of emotions as the Ricoh Arena tries to climb the social ladder.
So a thought-provoking piece, but one that perhaps needs some tightening and tweaking to fulfil the potential it clearly has.
Runs until: 18th July