If there's one thing I love, it's discovering a new theatre I haven't visited before. Theatre in London isn't confined to Shaftesbury Avenue and its surrounding streets. The Hope Theatre is a nice little hidden destination you might not be familiar with - located above a pub in Islington and was the perfect setting for this show about a nearby football club.
Fever Pitch is based on the memoir by Nick Hornby - the man responsible for such well loved films About A Boy and High Fidelity (who recently had a wonderful stage adaptation). Based on his own life, Fever Pitch tells about the obsession one man has with his beloved Arsenal Football Club. The location lends itself to the story perfectly as all the references to Islington make it all the more relatable.
The relatively small space is transformed cleverly with fake turf on the floor, bench seating that changes from a bed to a podium with ease, and various pictures and signs from Arsenal adoring the walls. Fabulously directed by Kennedy Bloomer whose tenure at the Hope Theatre was interrupted by the pandemic, making this her first and last production at the venue.
The main character of Nick is played by recent graduate Jack Trueman, making his stage debut. Trueman exhibits moments of brilliance in a slightly uneven performance where nerves are clearly visible. He shows a lot of potential though and I imagine will be a lot stronger later in the shows run.
The remainder of the weird and wacky characters Nick interacts with are played by three people who shift from one to another in a moments notice. Louise Hoare and Gabrielle MacPherson switch seamlessly through characters including his little sister, girlfriend and mother (awkward if you mix up which character you are supposed to be playing) but the true standout for me was Ashley Gerlach who brilliantly channelled both men and women in his characterisations. One highlight included a hilarious physical improvisation when his skirt fell off.
The challenge is making a show so deeply rooted in football appeal to those who maybe aren't quite as into the beautiful game - I'll gladly admit it's not a sport I love (neither are any other sports, to be fair) so moments of the show did feel lost on me - although a moment when one of the characters shouted "DAZ" did have me wondering what I'd done. Looking around at other audience members, it was interesting to see how they connected to the piece - coming alive to join in with the various football chants that interspersed the piece, almost like somebody had flicked the on switch on them.
Where Fever Pitch truly shone was around halfway into the piece where it took on a more serious tone. Nick comments on the aggression that is all too common in football fans, and about the racism players face that has plagued the game for decades. This added a much needed layer of depth to a piece that on the surface could solely be seen as a love letter to Arsenal. Perhaps this could have been analysed further as I was keen to see more on this topic.
Ultimately, the passion in which these characters speak about the football club they love is so infectious, it leaps into the audience, leaving even the least knowledgable football fan in the room (yeah, that would be me) to join in with their excitement.
As with all Nick Hornby adaptations, the strongest aspect of Fever Pitch is its writing. Adapted by Joel Samuels, this does a great job of turning a hidden treasure of a space in Islington into an almost immersive piece of theatre. Football fans will love it, but even those not as familiar with the game will leave there with a smile on their face... and a football chant in their head.
Fever Pitch plays at the Hope Theatre in Islington until September 25th. Tickets from https://www.thehopetheatre.com/