Review: Moorcroft (Tron Theatre)
Updated: Jun 1, 2022
There will always be a place in Scottish theatre for small, homely plays. Ordinary stories, that strive for an honest and earnest portrayal of local people will almost always be met with open arms. Moorcroft, written and directed by Eilidh Loan, is a shining example of that. It tells a collection of stories from her father’s youth, which are strung together into a narrative about friendship, loyalty, and masculinity. Set in the late 80s, we meet a group of 19-Year-Olds with nicknames like Mince (Martin Quinn) and Noodles (Santino Smith), who decide to form a six-a-side football team. Garry (Martin Docherty), our ageing narrator, is excited not by the prospect of winning, but just by being able to “start something achievable” in a time when that was the most that a working-class teenager in Scotland could ask for.
Creating that environment, one where joy, conflict, and a tinge of hopelessness are ever-present, is where Moorcroft focuses most of its energy. It’s a necessary effort, one that perfectly communicates why becoming a team feels so important. We are told from the start not to expect sparkly costumes or dramatic set changes, but don’t let that make you think it isn’t theatrical. Loan knows just which moments to make shine; those which best bring the setting to life. There is a moment when the cast belt out “fuck off somebody’s in” in unison when someone knocks on each of their cubicle doors. It is one of those rare moments where theatricality, locality, and a traditional idea of masculinity work in harmony together.
When it comes to the plot, this is not so much a football play with characters, as it is a character play with football. The excitement doesn’t peak during the matches (although they are superbly choreographed). Instead, the highs and lows are centred on the characters’ relationships, their discoveries, and their losses. These “journeys” as Loan calls them are tragic and charming in turn, but sadly none are built on or taken in unexpected directions. The cast and their chemistry are beyond question, and it speaks to their strength as performers that the actors, who in most cases are well past their teenage years, never fail to deliver the kind of impulsive, passionate, often immature interactions that make them appear youthful. But individually they struggle to break out of their character types; hard, goofy, foolish, quick-witted, these are characters we’ve seen time and time again, especially in Scottish works.
Loan is certainly following in the footsteps of other notable Scottish storytellers; writers, theatremakers, filmmakers, but Moorcroft follows those footsteps so closely it ends up leaving little impression of its own. It incorporates the conventions, character arcs, and conclusions that have been overused to the point of cliché. Our narrator introducing the characters while everyone around them moves in slow motion, for example. Or the “hard” character whose grievances can be all be attributed to his abusive childhood, which is never properly explored. Even a comedic scene in which someone accidentally smears faeces on their face, the crassness of which is somehow excused by being in Scots.
Ordinary stories are always welcome, but they need to either find new ways to tell those stories, or embrace their own clichés and elevate them. Take Rust by Kenny Emson; it follows the tropes of a story about an extra-marital affair, but leaves out certain details and trusts its audience to keep up with what happens on stage. Here, instead of allowing the weight of allowing something to go unsaid, and seeing toxic masculinity at play, Moorcroft puts its narrator front and centre to tell the audience exactly what went wrong, and how we should feel about it. Docherty gives a strong performance, unable to separate his sunny reminiscence from his regrets, but the drama lacks the subtlety that would have made it impactful. Moorcroft serves a nostalgic audience. It serves a local audience. It serves an audience who may feel like the theatre is not a place they do not ordinarily belong. Theatre like that is important and taken on its own the play ticks all the boxes for an entertaining, emotional, and crowd-pleasing flashback to Thatcher-era Scotland. But there is little in the play, or its production, that will come as a surprise. Take a step back, and think about the wider context of Scottishness in theatre, and it is hard to see what Moorcroft really has to offer. Three stars.