MusicalNorth East & YorkshireReview

Atalanta Forever – Piece Hall, Halifax

Reviewer: Rich Jevons

Writer: Amanda Whittington

Director: Marianne McNamara

Composer and Musical Director: Rebekah Hughes

Mikron Theatre continue to build on the success of A Dog’s Tale to tour Atalanta Forever alongside the canine capers. In comparison this show does not quite have the same sense of outrageous comedy but still has the audience smiling at the wit and wonder of Amanda Whittington’s script.

Again outdoors, this time at Halifax’s historical Piece Hall, they honour the memory of the founders of women’s football in 1920’s Huddersfield. Celia Perkins’ design is simple, football posts with blue and white scarves strewn on the bar, but proves functional too. And from the outset the play also becomes an homage to the boys lost in World War One and the survivors’ difficulties in facing post-War life. So there is in the intro a moving rendition of Abide With Me, an anthem to both those who have been lost and those who survived with difficulties.

The formation of the women’s football team Atalanta Forever in Huddersfield is a cry for mutual respect between the sexes through sport. The two female protagonists we first meet from the team are school-teacher Annie (an inimitable and irrepressible Rachel Benson) and Ethel (an earthy and athletic Elizabeth Robin). While Thomas Cotran cross-dresses as their captain Mrs Waller with hilarious and cheeky results. In multiple roles, from priest to football commentator, is James McLean (with perfect comic timing and a sideways nod to camp and kitsch).

The first of many endearing songs interspersed in and recounting the narrative of the piece is Rules of the Game, an A-Z of football regulations. The lively and highly enjoyable music is composed and with lyrics by Kieran Buckeridge. The sizzling and sensational songs come with music directed by Rebekah Hughes. The actor-musicians pick up a whole host of instruments, including guitar, violin, accordion, trombone and even a kazoo and whistle!

The historical backstory is well-researched and convincingly authentic in its presentation. Such as Annie’s late husband having caused a scandal by his pacifist convictions as a conscientious objector during the War. His life (before succumbing to influenza) is eulogised in the touching I Raise My Motley Cap. It is a paean to Freedom, Justice, Truth and Right and provides a cathartic release for Annie. The melodies and harmonies are simply superb and carry the story, as well as adding extra depth and meaning to it.

We witness quite a few of Atalanta AFC’s matches, including a tightly-won 1-0 victory over Bath in front of a 15,000 crowd and raising monies for the Mayor’s Distress Fund. Then after a 4-0 defeat to a vastly more experienced side, the song Win or Lose or Draw takes us to the interval with a sense of serene acceptance and hopeful optimism.

By the second half there is quite some opposition to women taking part in football, with accusations of match fixing, fraud and politicising the game. Women’s rights are celebrated in the song Fit for Heroes, explaining the meaning of Atalanta. She was actually a myth from Ancient Greece and a girl who could fight, just as Annie and Ethel are attempting to do. But for Annie things have become too controversial and, at risk of losing her job as deputy head mistress, she hangs up her boots. In a case of real-life irony McLean’s commentator describes the rain-soaked fans and Atalanta AFC ‘playing the storm’ as rain clouds hovered over Halifax.

Mikron Theatre’s Artistic Director Marianne McNamara really brings out the best from a versatile and vivacious cast, allowing their occasional use of improvisation to add to the immediacy and freshness of this frenetic and convincing show.

Touring until 19th September. Full details HERE

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