Perry Fitzpatrick as Dave McVay - photo by Robert Day
Sporting plays are not a new concept for the Playhouse. Last year they ran Michael Pinchbeck’s The Ashes and back in 2006 they brought us Stephen Lowe's Old Big ‘Ead In The Spirit of the Man. So this latest production comes with something of a legacy behind it.
From the moment Diary of a Football Nobody kicks off, with a voice-over from legendary Notts County commentator Colin Slater, you realise you are in for something special. In a break with 50-odd years of his own self-styled commentating tradition, Slater goes on to insult the lead part and repeatedly say the word "bollocks". This early and unexpected juxtaposition is the first of many laughs on a night of heartwarming underdog comedy.
The story follows self-confessed ‘football nobody’ Dave McVay from 1974-1975. A workmanlike homegrown seventies midfielder; he learns his trade at Notts County and comes of age as a man, straddling a range of sporting, family and cultural issues along the way.
It’s a far cry from the current vogue of footballers being 'overpaid prima donnas'. As well as the training and matches, the story takes us through McVay’s part-time job delivering eggs, his family troubles and his initial regrets at choosing a professional football career over going to university (can you imagine any footballer having such a dilemma these days?).
Eric Richard as Jimmy Sirrel and Brian Lonsdale as Billy Brindley - Photo by Robert Day
There's plenty of interesting local subtext too. From the players' drinking trips around Nottingham haunts of the seventies, to afternoons of crate-digging at Selectadisc and wardrobe-hunting at the Paul Smith shop (although they head to Birdcage instead when they realise he’s a Forest fan insiting "it'll never take off").
It’s a real labour of love all round. McVay’s well-received biography Steak, Diana Ross has been delicately crafted into a linear storyline and script by avid Notts fan and BAFTA nominee William Ivory. The talented Matt Aston then takes over on directing duties. All three of them have performed out of their skins.
The sets are created by projecting images and occasional videos and it works perfectly. The soundtrack includes a bunch of classics from the era including several Nick Drake numbers and Deep Purple’s Smoke on the Water (which hilariously is used every time the character of giant Notts centre-half Brian Stubbs ‘appears’).
It’s hard to imagine the casting to have been done better. Perry Fitzpatrick (who first came to attention as the bully Flip in This Is England ’86) is captivating in the lead role – endearing and amusing throughout. But the show-stealing performance comes from Eric Richard (formerly Sergeant Bob Cryer in ITV’s The Bill) who is laugh out loud funny as Jimmy Sirrel, imparting irreverent wisdom like ““Yer playing, but yer no really playing, son” with great aplomb.
Diary of a Football Nobody delivers bags of pathos, genuinely heartwarming comedy, a great script and tremendous performances. I’ve never been to see the same play twice during on the same run, but I may make an exception this time around. Back of the net!
Diary of a Football Nobody is on at the Nottingham Playhouse until Saturday 20 October 2012.
Nottingham Playhouse website