Who Ate All The Pies? – 4 stars

Tristan Bates Theatre, The Actor’s Centre, London.

The cynical amongst us might think that “a modern musical football fable” going on this month is timed to coincide with the biggest football competition in the world. I rather suspect it is, to be honest, but don’t let that put you off or make you think that this is just a throwaway piece of theatre designed to cash in on the moment. It’s certainly more than that.

Yes, there’s plenty of stuff in there that the football fans will appreciate, from the simple ‘jokes-from-down-the-pub’ (“Name three football teams with swear words in their name” – and I won’t give the punchline away here!) to the observational stuff of teams going into receivership, deduction of points by the FA, WAGS, sleazy agents and ego-maniac millionaire owners. But there’s much more than just footy-based humour. The simple story tells of Sharon, and her journey in the stand of City FC over a season as she fulfils her uber-fan father’s dying wish to take his season ticket and find out what all the fuss is about. So we witness his love for his team and the love that his daughter felt was missing at home, and we see the classic tale of daughter made good, moving away to the city, leaving behind a father that feels unable to communicate with her. All played very touchingly and believably, which makes you sympathise with the Sharon and yet understand and empathise with Punter, her father.

The seven-strong cast are excellent, every single one of them. We first see them as the collection of City season ticket holders who happen to sit near Punter in the stands, but as the show rattles through its 75 minute running time they turn their hand to all sorts of characters, managing to display superb comic timing and delivery and then poignant, almost heartbreaking, moments of drama. (Never have I felt so sorry for a young, good looking £18million footballer!) It’s impossible to pick anybody out, so I will simply name them (because I think they deserve to be credited here) in the order they appear in the program: Phil Prichard, Yildiz Hussein, James O’Connell, Ali James, Ben Redfern, Michael Hobbs and Rob Hughes. Premiership performances.

The music has shades of influence of Sondheim and Kander and Ebb (there’s a scene where the football agent seems to manipulate the press which is pretty much Billy Flynn in Chicago!) but is great nonetheless. There is, though, perhaps too much song and not enough narrative. Indeed, this would be my only real criticism of the piece; the writers have tried to pack so much into the short script that none of the ideas or set-pieces really get the time or attention they should. Kind of like a nil-nil between Sunderland and Newcastle – you’ve seen a thrilling, exciting and dramatic match, there just weren’t any goals.

At the end of the day, though, this is a very good show. Excellent performances, great choreography, some very good songs, and also a strong lighting and design element which works perfectly in the space and really adds to the feel of the piece. Back of the net!

(originally posted 11 June 2010)

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