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Festival Review: 1902

Edward Charles reviews a play that balances tragedy with comedy by an impressive young company.

I started to feel like I might have made a good choice, as soon as I stepped into the “Wee Red Bar” at Edinburgh College of Art. There was a vibrant buzz about the place on the evening I attended, it had the feeling of a working man’s club after the local team has just brought home a trophy, and its bright red walls added to the warmth and charm exuding from the place. Appropriately enough, it was a show about football I was there to see, and once concerning a rather big trophy no less: the Scottish Cup and the landmark win of this trophy by “Hibernian” Football Club in 2016.

The play is titled 1902—the year the club in question was established—and our storytellers are the vibrant and zealous new theatre company Saltire Sky. From start to finish, the play captures you in its energetic current which is reminiscent of “every word being important” nature that is found in slam poetry. In fact, the writing overall turns all of the cast, and in particular its writer and performer Nathan Dunn, into urban poets. The language is so cleverly selected and put across with such strong comic timing that the script almost has its own inimitable sense of Hip Hop “Beats” from start to finish.

The cast are all resolutely excellent, with Dunn deserving a mention for his excellent writing. There are some excellent one-liners and a wonderful “sending up” of the human condition that is reminiscent of early Billy Connolly sketches. The main plot between two brothers (Nathan Dunn and Sands Stirling) captures a world all too familiar in a world decimated by Thatcher and failed by New Labour: one brother has sought refuge in drugs and alcohol while the other’s love of football reminds him that a little aspiration and a lot of resilience can take him a long way—a parable for the win had by “Hibs” that the play is centred on. The brothers reunite with fatal consequences, and it is testament to this young company and their writer that even a play with such a rambunctious spirit can balance tragedy with comedy with the same flair seen in the work as such notaries as Mike Leigh and Ken Loach.

1902 is well worth seeing. The comedy and relationships hooks any audience member—a love of football is merely a bonus and not a necessary component to having a great night out at this production. In short, watching the play is like having a night out with all of your friends when they are all having the funniest night of their life! Saltire Sky are certainly stamping themselves as an impressive young company to watch for the future.

1902’s Fringe run has ended. It will perform at PASS on September 20th at 7pm.

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