The Cast
Cheering on the team

"Sidelines" a play about football, not a favourite subject of mine, but set on the touchline of a football pitch watching the match happening out towards the audience, sounded like something different and original and I'm always up for a different theatrical experience. The play, written by Kate Futcher, follows the fortunes of the Hockton Athletic football team in its bid for the cup, but more importantly is a comment upon the men for whom football is a lifelong passion and those self-sacrificing wives and girlfriends drawn into the endless winter saga, supporting the team perhaps without that wholehearted focus of the men, a rich ground for comedy!

The piece on October 11th opened with an announcement that, owing to injury, the part of 'the physio' would be played by Loretta Freeman with script in hand, never easy and likely to affect the rhythm of the piece. The warmth of a supportive audience willing the performers to succeed however, created a fertile ground for success. The play is very much a series of duologues about football conventions and jokes, punctuated with flashbacks to do with meaningful moments of the characters. The script, although somewhat lightweight and predictable, is nevertheless neatly constructed and very playable. It does not attempt to be profound but offers some good dramatic moments. A little tentative in places, particularly in the first act the play picked up well in the second and offered a good evening's entertainment.

neatly constructed and very playable

Characters are meant to be stereotypes and the jokes are sometimes expected, like those to do with fitness or the lack of, and of the stresses of the manager suffering from a stomach ulcer etc. so it needed to be played boldly, with colour and variety, contact being made from time to time directly with the audience making us into supporters too. Centring around four couples, the script needed careful handling to achieve the laughs in the right places. This was exactly what we had. Obviously in experienced hands the piece was effectively directed and was successful because of its simplicity. We opened to a visual picture of very little, just two rostra and a crate enabling some excellent groupings. Those close to the stage would have noted the lines painted on the pitch itself, details that say much about the company. 'Chumbawumba' music, 'Match of the Day' and 'Que Sera' although clich├ęs, gave exactly the right feel to the piece as did the costuming, Ray Newton as Stan in his suede coat looking so much the part, the football strip etc. and moments when characters changed with simple additions of scarves, hats, the wedding veil etc.

Patrick Sunners
Patrick Sunners

Every effort was made to use the small space of the CoPs auditorium to draw the audience into the action, the scoreboard changes, the direct addresses to audience members and moments when we were invited to join in with the clapping. The auditorium exits and entrances were appropriate and well timed. Sometimes the audience were not actively employed but sat in place of the players on the pitch requiring some clever focussing as we are treated to a verbal picture of what is happening on the pitch. This too was very well managed. The focus was out only when there was a large group on stage who did not quite appear to all be looking at the same thing. The energy and attack were particularly good in the second act beginning with the football chant.

Loretta Freeman carried her role with particular style. Since she was the assistant director she obviously knew the script well but showed real skill in the way she coped. She found the best moments to check the script, managed to use it to her advantage and is to be congratulated. If only more stage-managers or those who step in could carry off such feats during the rehearsal process!

Ray Newton developed a comfortable relationship with the audience

The lighting at certain down-stage areas did not illuminate faces sufficiently particularly during the first half. It tended to light the picnic basket for example and not the faces. Maybe compromises had to be made since there were some other fine uses of light creating a variety of effects, for example the subtle changes before moments talking to the audience, the atmosphere created during the flashbacks and things like the moon on the cyc. The impressive church window on the cyc was excellent.

Along with neat costume changes and inspired positioning of actors throughout the scene sitting on the benches with their backs to the audience, the wedding scene was to become one of the more memorable ones. The gags surrounding the Saturday wedding during the match were really funny. Indeed similar 'goings on' happened at my own wedding, which was also during the Grand National!

Ray Newton
Ray Newton

There was some clever dialogue and witty repartee regarding the "off-side rule" for example, which worked better than the sentimental moments, like those of Stan as he considers his marriage and his love of the game "She tempts you with glory and passion and polished silver." which didn't quite work. The part of Stan was very well played apart from this monologue, which was a bit tentative. There were some excellent moments actually watching the game and Ray Newton developed a comfortable relationship with the audience, not the easiest skill. I did think he might have taken his coat off in the "flash back' to his youth. Claudia McKelvey played a believable 'long-suffering' wife 'Shirley. Paul Morton as 'Stuart' and his wife 'Pam', Louise Kemplen, performed with good attention to detail. 'Ian' played by Andy Kirtley and 'Dawn', Lou Robinson, his wife who is pregnant in Act 2 created effective roles. I wasn't sure about the 'baby-bump' but decided it fitted in with the style of additions. Patrick Sunners who played 'Rick', the confident good-looking player, needed to lift his confidence a little for this part. We needed to believe in his "genius"! I particularly enjoyed his 'vicar'. Likewise the part of 'Gemma' required a sense of assurance which just needed lifting at times by actress Julia Ryan, who had some effective moments such as when learning about the 'off-side' rule. The actors worked extremely well together, also playing other roles within the 'flashbacks'. The chanting, moments of watching the game, use of props and costume were well handled and there was a real sense of 'teamwork' most appropriate for the piece and brought together, I imagine, by director Eric Chorley. It must have been fun rehearsing this script.

Claudia McKelvey and Ray Newton
Claudia McKlvey and Ray Newton

So, all in all, a piece of which to be very proud. My drama teaching colleague, who used my spare ticket, and I, both thought it good entertainment, offering the cast and actors much to work with. The play is a little thin in substance and covers predictable ground. As it stands though, it is not too short. The flashbacks are a good idea and could be developed. We thought it would be good material to use with students allowing scope for dramatic development. It uses many techniques. The ideas are neatly woven together and hold the audience. Just a couple of areas bothered me slightly, where I was not sure if the play was offering some sort of moral. Whilst the play remains fun, it works. Congratulations Eric Chorley and the team at CoPs Theatre, it was a pleasure to support you, it's what community theatre should be all about. Thank you for the opportunity to join you. What's the next play Kate?

Coral Walton is a drama teacher and founder member of The Commonswood Players. Photographs by Steve Beeston.

Sidelines was written by Kate Futcher and directed by Eric Chorley. The production was staged at The Little Theatre in 2002.