Atalanta Forever – Review – Halifax Piece Hall

The cast of Atalanta Forever - Photo by Elizabeth Baker Photography - EB1_7113EB6_8656 (1)

By Steve Crabtree

What a venue. What a gorgeous evening. And what a fantastic night it was for the premiere of the much-awaited Atalanta Forever, from Huddersfield’s Mikron Theatre company.

Atalanta Forever is the story of the rise and the fall of the first-ever Huddersfield Town ladies football team. A team that was passionately created shortly after World War I in 1920, but cruelly forced into demise by the Football Association five years later.

The bring-your-own-seat production, in true football style, was an outside affair in the Piece Hall courtyard. It was a sell-out too – with 100+ people surrounded by perimeter fencing and blue and white scarves, waiting for kick-off.

Elizabeth Robin and Rachel Benson - Atalanta Forever - Photo by Elizabeth Baker Photography - EB1_7113 (1)

“A cleverly played out production”

As we spectators settled into our seats, ‘Abide With Me’ played, and a blue and white scarf was held up.  That football hymn is synonymous with football cup finals, but Atalanta Forever is a tale about more than just football. It tackles class divide, sexism, unemployment and the fall out of the war. It all formed a cleverly played out production. And I was really pleased to be there to see it.

We had a lineup of four brilliant actors telling the story. Rachel Benson and Elizabeth Robin play the lead roles of Annie and Ethel. Ethel the football nut is wet behind the ears in life. And Annie’s intelligence means she’s a well-to-do teacher with no inkling about the sport whatsoever. The two form an unlikely but beautiful friendship over the beautiful game, and they nicely set the tone for the play.

James McLean and Thomas Cotran were more than making up the numbers, playing all sorts of positions in the team. The latter amusingly fulfilling the female role of Miss Waller, much to the Halifax audiences delight.

All four played their parts superbly, and I Raise My Motley Cap to them.

James McLean, Thomas Cotran and Elizabeth Robin - Atalanta Forever - Photo by Elizabeth Baker Photography - EB1_7113EB1_7155 (1)

“Thoroughly entertained”

We soon found out the cast were more than just great actors too. Each one also played an instrument or two (or more). From the kazoo, to the trombone, guitar to the violin. The accordion also made an appearance here and there, with the players from Mikron showing they’re a very talented bunch.  Some of the songs that accompanied the production slightly had a football chant edge. ‘Rules Of The Game’ was my favourite, as the ladies proved they had an A-Z of football knowledge. Was football really an improper sport for women to play?

Within the emotive story, there are also humorous nudges to the more modern-day elements of football and society. A costume change prompted a Boris Johnson quip; and McClean’s brilliant 1920’s football commentator had its own little tribute to a more recent sheepskin coat wearing TV commentator that we all know.

As much as the storyline about the Atalanta team was enjoyable, the production was educational too. The first ladies’ football superstar Lily Parr was referenced a lot in Atalanta Forever, and at the end, she was immortalised whilst she spoke to Ethel. Ethel had thought that ladies football was over when the FA stopped allowing them to play in the 20s. But Parr told us all how they’d carried on, against all adversity, and brought us up to date with the success of the women’s game today.

I really recommend going to see Atalanta Forever. What a fun evening out at the theatre. And how fantastic to see four actors tredding the ‘boards’ and doing their bit again. And doing it so well.  We’d dodged the rain, we’d also been thoroughly entertained by the Mikron Theatre.

I just wish the highlights were on Match Of The Day when we got home.

Images: Elizabeth Baker


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