Saturday, October 08, 2022

One Saturday Before The War – about the first time Glentoran brought home a European cup (Bright Umbrella at Sanctuary Theatre until Saturday 15 October)

“Vienna, my hole” is how one player reacts to the suspicious looking invitation for the east Belfast football side to play the best of Europe in the spring of 1914. One Saturday Before The War turns the clock back to that year when the Irish Cup champions Glentoran’s players were given two week’s paid leave from their shipyard jobs to tour through Europe playing a series of football matches, ultimately winning the Vienna Cup with a comprehensive victory over a Vienna Select XI side on 30 May.

Working with the eponymous history book’s author Sam Robinson, director Trevor Gill has imagined a series of scenes that explore the team, the time and the people over a two-hour show. There’s a real mix of styles, with the fourth wall increasingly broken and the audience brought into the world of the players. But with the east Belfast Sanctuary Theatre’s stalls filled with Glentoran fans, it’s hard to go wrong.

The 1914 team’s captain Paddy McCann (Thomas Galashan) – who switched from hurling to play soccer for Belfast Celtic and then picked up a job in the shipyard as a bonus for transferring to Glentoran – lives with sectarian abuse on the pitch. Forrest Bothwell plays Jack Boyd who is chased across Europe – presumably only in this fictionalised account – by his mother (Phillipa O’Hara) who berates him for setting off without his piece. O’Hara also plays team member Davy Lyner who may have had a familial link with the German Kaiser.

The elephant in the room throughout the footballing adventure is the deteriorating political situation across Europe, and several scenes visit the front in France where some of the players have returned to fight in the months after their victory in Vienna. Jack Watson’s Reike Voight brings an outside perspective to the battle on the pitch and afterwards in the trenches.

Remarkably, the script manages to poke fun at Linfield, and the cast sing rowdy Glens’ songs, use a choreographed dance routine to tell the story of a match, create a mesmerising silhouette as the young soldiers go over the top, and reduce the audience to tears as we learn about the poor health that plagues Paddy McCann’s family home.

One Saturday Before The War is brilliantly sweary in places, and contains a particularly convincing hairdryer moment as the manager berates the underperforming team at half time in the 1914 Irish Cup Final. Club banners adorn the walls of the theatre, branding the whole venue with team colours. Misbehaving moustaches add to the frivolity. There’s a real sense of farce as the team disappear into a bar instead of boarding their train to Larne.

The cast of four keep the show’s energy up throughout, and their cheeky interaction with the audience is rewarded. The video inserts are perhaps overly generous in length, baggy when compared with the tighter direction of the on-stage action. The closest the performance gets to scoring a home goal is the play’s ambitious conclusion which has more false endings and surprises than a Bond film. But that can all be fixed.

One Saturday Before The War brings a community’s history to life. It’s accessible, ambitious and reaches local audiences with nuanced storytelling that doesn’t shy away from uncomfortable truths. The production continues at the Sanctuary Theatre until Saturday 15 October

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