What if you took the energy and passion of a football match, set it to some original songs and made it the backdrop of a northern family drama? You’d have Meat Pie, Sausage Roll – well, more or less. Except this new play with songs isn’t about one football match, but a whole season of matches between 1990 and 1991, when Oldham Athletic AFC did remarkably well and was taken to the heart of many fans as their second club. The story of an underdog punching above their weight is something everyone can warm to, and when that’s a local story the response is often phenomenal.
The success of Oldham Athletic AFC is seen through the eyes of two Oldham families, one white and one Asian. Cathy Crabb and Lindsay Williams have written a conventional family drama with a death, a courtship and a marriage at its core. The plot is entirely predictable, but then most families lead predictable lives. The unpredicted success of Oldham Athletic AFC weaved into these domestic events is what brings the piece to life.
The narrative is a bit one-dimensional. A mother dies and… well, she just dies. A couple fancy each other. They get together without any real obstacle, other than their childhood dislike of each other, which is almost immediately overcome. A man auditions for a football team. He gets in. The drama really is on or about the pitch. Which of course is frustrating as that’s the one thing we can’t see. The play suffers from the worst dramatic device of Shakespeare: Battles are fought off-stage and we are offered nothing but commentary.
Equally frustrating for an audience is the constant football chanting. The enjoyment in chanting is in joining in, which people don’t (other than right at the very end). Watching other people chant is just a bit dull. The strongest thing dramatically is a sub-plot involving the delayed return of a groom from a stag do following an engineered racist attack, which is chillingly played out during a wedding reception for maximum contrast and impact.
There are pre-existing songs that come to the play as football chants and new songs composed by Carol Donaldson. They’re all competent but one stands out, ‘Just The Light’, a beautiful duet about two people struggling to admit a mutual attraction. The singing, like the acting, is surprisingly patchy. Jenny Platt is convincing as Mandi, the emerging architect who moved away only to return home again following her mother’s death. Des O’Malley, as Mandi’s brother, gives us a hint of sexual ambiguity in his song ‘Eleven Men & A Ball’.
John Elkington is solid as Mandi’s recently widowed father. Gurjeet Singh, as Mandi’s lover Asif, is weaker, never quite finding the confidence and authority that his role requires. Yasmeen Khalaf gives a good comedy turn as Jas, especially in the second half, when she’s dressed under protest in a Bo Peep bridesmaid dress.
Meat Pie, Sausage Roll will be a hit with any fan of Oldham Athletic AFC. It is a homage to the club and to a special moment in its past that people who know it will have a particular nostalgia for. It’s unlikely to have a much wider appeal, but it knows the goal it’s aiming for, and it scores.
Meat Pie, Sausage Roll is at Oldham Coliseum until March 25. For tickets click here.
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Words by Stephen M Hornby