Anyone who knows me should be well aware that pretty much the extent of my interest, let alone prowess, in sport consists of being South London triple jump champion for about five minutes when I was 10-years-old. That and winning half a crown (yes, it was that long ago) as a member of the triumphant five-a-side football team in the same primary school’s annual competition; a victory based entirely on the presence of the captain of the school football team in my randomly-allotted team. What’s more, I’m a “soft Southern Jessie”.
So I’m not the core demographic for a play with songs based around the somewhat improbable success of Oldham Athletic football team at the beginning of the 90s. Nevertheless, I really rather enjoyed this fond celebration of those people and communities for whom the love of 11 men and a ball, to quote one of the songs, is a real and important part of their sense of community.
The team behind Meat Pie, Sausage Roll – writers Cathy Crabb and Lindsay Williams, with Carol Donaldson contributing original songs and Kevin Shaw directing – managed to pull off a similar trick of playing to the home crowd while avoiding parochialism with last year’s Dreamers, a play with songs based around clubbing in Oldham.
Mick (John Elkington) and his son Kev (Des O’Malley) are life-long Latics fans, loyally resigned to their lowly status compared to the big boys like United and City. Freezing and getting thoroughly soaked week in, week out at Boundary Park football ground with their pal Woody (Richard J. Fletcher) have become significant parts of their identity, unlike Kev’s sister Mandi (Jenny Platt) who has moved away to that London and carved out a successful career as an architect. But the death of her mother and the opportunity to design a new shopping precinct contrive to bring her back to the area, where she not only finds herself working for an old family friend Asif (Gurjeet Singh) but also drawn back to her former enthusiasm for Latics. Love blooms with Asif but loyalties are tested when their planned wedding day clashes with a vital match for the team.
So it’s a love story set against the background of families and relationships – pretty much par for the course, but with an overlay of another, different sort of love, one for a football team (for which you could, of course, substitute a rock band, classical orchestra, opera company or any other such object of communal affection) and for the community that comes with that loyalty and support.
For the most part (although a late plot twist is not as deftly handled as it might have been) this is sure-footed, crowd-pleasing stuff that will delight football fans but not leave anyone else out in the cold. The rituals – team colours, the chants, the bizarre mascot, the rubbish food and the lousy facilities – are lovingly drawn and the songs are a canny mix of the sort of middle-brow musical fare that decorates most big venue musical hits with occasionally hilarious or foul-mouthed but invariably rousing, football chants.
Like most Oldham productions, Meat Pie, Sausage Roll doesn’t miss a trick when it comes to getting its audience on its side or on its feet. The opening night’s surprise guest appearance of Latics hero Andy Ritchie was an undisputed back-of-the-net moment but Meat Pie, Sausage Roll doesn’t need that sort of trick to send its intended audience home happy.
By Kevin Bourke, Theatre Editor
Photos: Joel C Fildes
Meat Pie, Sausage Roll is at Oldham Coliseum until March 25, 2017. For more information, click here.