First seen in 2007 and revived in 2010, this play written by Bolton Wanderers fans about the club’s near mythical FA Cup final victory over West Ham in 1923 at first glance seems squarely aimed at a nostalgic home crowd.
But despite Les Smith and Martin Thomasson’s witty and lyrical script being festooned with local references and place names, there’s plenty for non-devotees to enjoy.
Performing this version in a suite overlooking the terraces at the University of Bolton Stadium (Bolton Wanderers’ home since 1997) while the Octagon is being refurbished adds a welcome novel touch, while the very human stories of the fans’ various heartaches and hardships intertwined with the club’s road to Wembley resonate whatever your allegiance or interest in the sport.
Former Octagon artistic director David Thacker’s production has a stripped down, rough-and-ready feel that suits the homely tone to a tee. Andy Smith’s roaring crowd sounds and Stanley Orwin-Fraser’s video projections showing pictures of the players and the 60,000 additional fans who flooded the pitch to watch from the touchline put both the audience and cast very much at the heart of the action.
In the end, as the multiple story strands weave together and the various storytelling techniques stack up, it ultimately tries to pack in too much. But the cast are committed throughout, with Martin Barrass a genial presence as the newsagent who walked 212 miles to see his team lift the cup and Helen O’Hara providing real heart as the bride-to-be whose wedding plans clash with final weekend.