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Theatre Review: The Scraff ***

Anna Burnside reviews a production 'with much to enjoy'.

Three lads in flammable sportswear are hanging around the school football pitch. Two are in the latest pastel-coloured shell suits, one has trackie bottoms flapping around his ankles and a suspiciously small jacket.

These details will become important later on. One of The Scaff’s strengths is its deep understanding of the minutiae of the playground and the part trainers play in its brutal pecking order.

Jamie, the confident one, has overheard other members of the football team describe Liam, the poor soul in the grown-out trousers, as “a scaff”. It’s not a compliment.

Jamie and his sidekick, Frankie, persuade their gullible pal to teach his insulter a lesson with a dirty tackle. Which is how the plodding right back ends up grinding his boot into star striker Coco’s knee.

Writers Stephen Christopher and Graeme Smith do a great job of capturing the intensity of teenage emotions. They have chosen the perfect arena—football is the only place where most Scottish men admit to having feelings.

Liam’s father has gone off with another woman. Football is the only thing they can talk about together. Later on, the hobbling Coco reveals that it’s the only thing that makes him interesting. Off the pitch, no one cares.

The late 90s setting is evoked with snippets of evocative music, a wall-mounted phone and the fact that the insult was overheard in a corner shop rather than screenshotted and posted on the group chat.

That all hangs together. Less charming is the puerile boy chat—far more references to wanking, porn and constipation than necessary. 

Craig Mclean, totally convincing as the bristling, defensive Coco, then has to put on a comedy wig for an unnecessary and overcooked scene at the school assembly.

The Scaff has been in development since the end of lockdown. It’s a shame that there has been another recent play - Moorcroft - that also explores the way Scottish men use football as therapy. 

There is still much to enjoy here. The performances from the four young actors are strong, with Mclean and newcomer Benjamin Keachie as Liam finding that particularly teenage mix of vulnerability and vileness. 

Christopher and Smith do a great job with the banter and casual cruelty of the young. They also evoke the era with little more than the trill of a Trimphone and mention of Safeways. It will be great to see what they do when they grow up.

The Scraff was reviewed at A Play, a Pie and a Pint. It performs at the Traverse Theatre from April 2-6, 2024.

Photo by Tommy Ga-Ken Wan.

Tags: theatre

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