Home » London Theatre Reviews » Fever Pitch at the Hope Theatre | Review

Fever Pitch at the Hope Theatre | Review

I’ve never been much of a football fan. In fact, regarding televised games, I’d say actually I’ve probably spent more time trying to avoid watching games than tuning in. But something changed earlier this year when it seemed England were actually doing pretty well in the *Google to check* European Championship only a couple of months ago. I found myself watching the quarter-finals pretty much by mistake, and then even I – a football cynic – made sure not to miss kick-off when we made it to the final. The game was exhilarating; more of a dramatic rollercoaster than possibly any piece of theatre I’d seen (or at least certainly in the 18 months preceding). For the first time in my life, I had a glimmer of understanding as to what the obsession was all about. I felt a part of it… a little bit. And so it seems like a perfectly timed bit of programming for Kennedy Bloomer to direct her first and last play as Artistic Director of the intensely intimate Hope Theatre, a play about that very thing – a man totally obsessed with the game – in the only slightly distant aftermath of the best we’ve played in the Euros since 1992.

Fever Pitch - Credit Ali Wright.
Fever Pitch – Credit Ali Wright.

Nick (Jack Trueman) has been football-obsessed since he was a kid. His parents divorced when he was quite young, and the game – or more specifically, his team – often saved him from slipping into waves of depression. The problem is, he can hardly stop thinking about it, and over the years it begins to have an impact on the rest of his life, on his friendships and romances. Trueman creates a friendly enough rapport with the audience, but the script – an adaptation of Nick Hornby’s memoir, adapted by Joel Samuels – never really offers enough depth for him to get his teeth into. Most of the story is taken up with Nick’s memories of particular matches, but these become a little repetitive, and there’s not much character growth, nor do the games do much to push the action forwards. He doesn’t really change much from beginning to end, so the play pretty much finishes at the same place it left off.

The rest of the company is made up of Ashley Gerlach, Louise Hoare and Gabrielle MacPherson, who multi-role a variety of family members, friends and girlfriends. In contrast to Trueman’s steadiness, Gerlach, Hoare and MacPherson take on cartoonish qualities, creating caricatures that sometimes feel a little loud for the space. The supporting characters in the story are all rather two-dimensional, so they do a good job with what they have, and certainly, bring a comic boost to give the dialogue a lift.

Bloomer’s direction works slickly with Kaitlin Duncan’s set design, keeping the play on its toes with two green benches which the cast move about to transform the shape of the space for each scene. Martha Godfrey’s lighting design is similarly slick, echoing the movement of a football game, colours and states snapping in and out of each other, like the ball being kicked from player to player. This certainly helps with the pacing issues, keeping the audience alert and attentive.

The stakes overall in the drama feel a little flat. The story touches on how the obsession with the game has a negative impact on Nick’s life – having to (hypothetically) decide if he’d miss a final match for the birth of his child, and referring to episodes of depression – but it never really pushes these ideas enough to test the obsession at its upper limits. There’s a somewhat poignant scene where Nick discusses his love for the game, what football means to him, in a little more depth; sparks of joy in his eyes when he thinks about the thrill of the goal, and reflects on the ephemerality of each match, making each moment in a game one-of-a-kind. This bit of the script starts to capture the magic of the game, and starts to justify the obsession for me. The problem is, I wasn’t able to empathise even nearly as much with the feelings of the fans as I was when watching an actual high-stakes game on the telly earlier in the year. The Euros genuinely invited me in to take part in the joy of it all, and I just don’t think this play manages to capture that in the same way. Despite attempts from the whole cast and creative team to get us chanting along with their efforts, the story just doesn’t quite live up to the adrenaline of an actual match.

3 Star Review

Review by Joseph Winer

When you’re in love nothing else matters. You become obsessed. And it can get pretty tricky if that obsessive love is directed towards eleven men wearing the same shirt and running around like idiots for ninety minutes every Saturday…

An exhilarating, moving and brutally funny love letter that will appeal to football obsessives and football haters alike. FEVER PITCH charts over two decades of one man’s total and utter obsession with Arsenal Football Club. A treatise on what it means to be a fanatic and what that means for everyone in our lives who isn’t. From exhilarating, all-encompassing moments of joy and pleasure to totally debilitating and soul-destroying lows, Nick’s obsession infects every aspect of his life. Is it really only a game?

Arsenal Football Club have committed to maintaining existing links with the theatre, and will bring some of the community groups it works with – who might not otherwise have access to arts and culture – into The Hope Theatre to see Fever Pitch.

FEVER PITCH
BASED ON THE BOOK BY NICK HORNBY
ADAPTED BY JOEL SAMUELS
THE HOPE THEATRE
31 AUGUST – 25 SEPTEMBER 2021
https://www.thehopetheatre.com/

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1 thought on “Fever Pitch at the Hope Theatre | Review”

  1. You really have to understand the depths and heights football can take you and what an escape football brings to some people. How, to some, who may not have close family and even those do have a close family – football and the same people that support that football club become like family.
    You need to know a little bit about the history of Arsenal football club to appreciate this play – from the dire times, where, because of the commitment to your club (you can change your wife husband girlfriend boyfriend – different when it comes to your club) you support through to the ecstasy of that night on the 26th May 1989.

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