Theatre reviews: Oh When the Saints | In the Weeds

There’s nothing subtle about Oh When The Saints, but as a riotous celebration of St Johnstone FC it’s hard to fault, writes Joyce McMillan
Colin McCredie as Bobby in Oh When The Saints PIC: Alastair MoreColin McCredie as Bobby in Oh When The Saints PIC: Alastair More
Colin McCredie as Bobby in Oh When The Saints PIC: Alastair More

Oh When The Saints, Perth Theatre ***

In The Weeds, Byre Theatre, St Andrews **

It’s just over a year since Perth’s much-loved team St Johnstone completed their historic 2021 Scottish football cup double; and with fans still basking in the glory of that magical year, there could hardly be a better moment for Perth Theatre to swathe its foyers in blue and white, and pull out all the stops.

Oh When The Saints – written and co-directed by Martin Mccormick – is billed as “a play about a city, community, and Perth’s favourite football club”; and in exploring those themes, it looks back to St Johnstone’s earlier Scottish Cup victory, at Celtic Park in 2014, over the auld enemy Dundee United. Our hero Bobby is a dedicated forty-something fan – single, obsessed, and fond of a drink – who never misses a St Johnstone game. When it comes to the Cup Final, though, he suddenly finds the once-in-a-generation mixture of intense hope and fear too much; and flees to the snowy top of Ben Lomond, forgetting that he still has in his pocket the tickets he bought for himself, his brother Del, and his niece Wendy, a gifted young footballer herself.

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Enter Helen, a well-equipped hill walker with far greater problems than Bobby can imagine. Meanwhile, Del and Wendy are heading for Glasgow with no tickets; and as they go, we learn more about their own complex footballing relationship. All of this is powerfully staged by McCormick and Lu Kemp on a towering set by Emily James that represents a section of a seated football stand, with the dressing room tunnel opening out centre stage. The stand is peopled by members of Perth Theatre’s youth and community groups, who provide a backdrop of joyful community fandom, and much-loved St Johnstone songs and chants, to the individual tales of Del and Wendy, Bobby and Helen.

There’s nothing subtle about Oh When The Saints; the plot is slight and fairly sentimental, and the pacing a little rough. As a riotous celebration of Perth’s local heroes, though, set firmly in the fast-changing world of 21st century football, the show is hard to fault. Colin McCredie, Lorna Craig, Tom McGovern and Greer Montgomery carry the leading roles in fine style; and as the audience raise their voices to join in the final chants and songs, it’s difficult to disagree with Lorna Craig’s Helen, who, at her first-ever football match, finds she just can’t resist the sight and sound of “so much joy”.

Mull Theatre’s latest touring show In The Weeds, by contrast, is a muted and meditative piece about an encounter between a troubled Japanese marine biologist, and a young woman whom he finds swimming in a mysterious lochan on a small Scottish island. In Joseph Wilde’s play, billed as a “Gothic thriller”, Carla Langley, as Coblaidh, has to carry the double burden of a character who is both a troubled young woman exiled by her own community, and a slightly stereotyped female figure of myth, representing the earth and waters that have been so damaged by man.

Despite plenty of interesting material from both cultures, though, it’s never clear what is really being dramatised in this 75-minute encounter, which begins with a lot of talk – conducted by Coblaidh in a weird, expletive-ridden Glasgow vernacular – and ends with some sensational threats of violence; and not even an atmospheric mountain-pool set by Kenneth Macleod can transform this play into much more than a some predictable thoughts about the environmental evils of humankind, dressed up with some vague hints of the violent and uncanny.

Oh When The Saints! is at Perth Theatre until 18 June. In The Weeds is at Cairndow Hall on 23 June, and at Summerhall as part of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, from 3-28 August ​​​​​​

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