“exactly what theatre is supposed to do”

Normally, if my ears ever hear the ‘c’ word this much within a 2 hour time frame, I want to be dragged me out of the establishment. Yet I’ll make an exception for plays this fantastic. “Sing Yer Heart Out for the Lads” by Roy Williams is a fast-paced, funny, yet deeply troubling drama set in a local pub in the early 2000s, which aims to capture the harsh reality of racism within English football culture, and Blizzard Theatre Productions brings this to the stage brilliantly. 

As you walk in, you’re immediately drawn to a setup of a vandalised pub toilet, which sets a tone for both the era and the genre of the play. Despite a late start, the performance kicked off with a bang, with a bickering three generational family dynamic prompting some good laughs within the first 10 minutes. This high energy was only increased by the entrance of our laddish spectators, who demand our attention with oh so familiar bellowing chants as they come down through the audience. 

The stage layout and set design was brilliant; not only from an aesthetic point of view but what it brought to the story plot wise; for example, utilising the apron as the pub toilets, providing a ‘sidelines’ through which more private, serious conversations and events took place. To be technically picky, I’d perhaps comment on the speed at which the house lights came on at the end of the first half, which didn’t allow the illusion to linger long enough and give actors the opportunity to exit the stage. 

The play, by its nature, is fast paced, high energy, and crowded, which I imagine can be difficult to execute without the space feeling overwhelming. This was managed beautifully by the dynamics of the characters and their environment; with the bulk of the cast facing out downstage with a focused and consistently held engagement with the game, as an equally tense plot unfolds rapidly in the real world around them. Whilst this was expertly reinforced by lighting, it wasn’t overused so much that it occluded how the actors themselves maintained this pace and shift in character focus.

Which brings me to the acting: I cannot emphasise enough how much I loved the acting. For a play in which context is so crucial, being able to communicate a character and their relationship with the others can either leave an audience completely lost or engage them in a story’s tension. This cast did the latter. Despite such a diversity of character types and such a rapid unfolding of events, there was an exhilarating chemistry between the cast which kept the atmosphere tense; dragging the audience right into the heart of the drama. Whilst this drama and tension is maintained and played with throughout, the last 5 minutes really takes the biscuit. I don’t think I’ve ever experienced an ending that leaves an emotion so heavy sitting in the pit of my stomach. It was almost unbelievable to see the cast break character within 5 seconds for the bow. That is exactly what theatre is supposed to do. 

Echoing recent racial attacks in the world of English football, this play is a slap in the face of the toxicity of the culture, and how we are far from eradicating it. It was so refreshing to see a more balanced cast and such brilliant non-white actors, whom I’m excited to see more of in future productions. All in all, an absolutely fantastic production which not only engages the audience throughout, but leaves them reflecting for hours after the curtain is drawn.

By Jess Newton

Photo credits: Blizzard Theatre Company