New play, Fit and Proper People, fuses football and theatre with a spot of food on the side for good measure.
Located in London’s epicentre of vice, Soho Theatre is surrounded by the sultry glow of neon lights. It seems the perfect venue for Fit and Proper People, a new play by Georgia Fitch, which looks to expose the seedy underbelly of the beautiful game. Daring, relentlessly provocative and darkly familiar, the play is both satire and tribute. It succeeds resoundingly in capturing the atmosphere of the stands, not least by giving out free pies at the half time interval.
Fit and Proper People tells the story of football agent, Casey Layton (Katy Stephens), and her dealings with new millionaire owner Frank Wong (David Yip), as she uses his fortune to buy players and earn promotion to the Premiership. In a furious non-stop narrative of quick-fire exchanges, the cut-throat politics of the board room are laid bare as Casey attempts to oust manager and narcissistic womaniser Tony Whitechapel – played by Steven Hartley with a croaking East End malevolence.
Before writing the script, Georgia immersed herself in a club, travelling with fans, speaking to players, and on her own admission, getting hooked on the world of football and all that surrounds it. “I felt compelled to tell the truth about what is really happening to our national game; my cousin had been dating a Premiership play and England star and her stories gave me the final push.”
Under Steve Marmion’s direction, there was an ingenious use of space, dance routine and intense physical interaction. The characters navigate around a set design that includes a dugout, changing room, grass pitch, floodlights, big screens, four stands seating the audience and electric advertising billboards. “The direction and stage design are inspired,” Georgia said, “Steve knows everything you could ever need to know about football and theatre; it’s great to have his experience and extensive knowledge leading the production. And Tom’s design makes the audience complicit and immersed within the play.’
As the whistle blew for the interval, with the excited babble of the audience gobbling on free pies, it really could have been half time at a football match. This carefree atmosphere was soon demolished in the second half of the play, which brought to light the characters’ disturbing back stories that include sexual abuse, fraud, human rights violations and an ultimate exploitation of fans. It focused on the misogyny that remains at the core of footballing institution, articulated by Tommy the scout (Russell Floyd): “women can’t deliver on the pitch that’s why they are treated the way they are.”
Incredibly ambitious, the script encroaches topics such as football’s imperial legacy and anxiety over the rise of Eastern economic power – all presented in a fragmented collage of surreal canivalesque media images that come to replace reality. We are shown how football gives a phoney and transient meaning as well as a sense of belonging in a ruthless and dehumanising capitalist society. The play is a testament to the potency of both theatre and football. As Georgia surmises: “Both are life choices, both can provide the most defining moments of one’s life.”
Fit and Proper People runs at The Soho Theatre until the 5th of November.
Text: William Severs
Photography: Simon Kane