As part of the ‘Art at the Heart’ festival, which aims to bring creativity to the heart of Southampton, the Nuffield theatre has spent the last 4 weeks building the Nuffield Playing Field outside the Guildhall in Southampton city centre. This is a pop up venue which resembles a football stadium, and will host 17 days of events as part of the festival. The Saints is one of the highlights of the festival and is unique in that it follows the life of down on his luck Southampton football fan Kenny as he supports his team through thick and thin. Featuring ex Southampton players Matt Le Tissier and Francis Benali in pre-filmed cameos, The Saints is at times hilarious and at other times heart-wrenching.
Entering the pop up venue was intriguing, resembling the turnstiles at a real football stadium, and the audience were all seated on football standard seating, meaning that the experience felt more intimate and engaging. For normal theatre goers, the beginning of the play will feel quite bizarre and at times a bit confused, with the remainder mixing comedy with a frantic dialogue and pace. However, the main character is perfectly likeable and is acted superbly by Cary Crankson. The first half of the show follows his childhood, including the death of his Dad, and his Mum subsequently developing an illness. As is the case with most teenagers, Kenny develops a crush on Emily, played by Eastenders alumni Scarlett Alice Johnson. Mixed amongst the life of Kenny, we are also treated to various re-enactments of key Southampton FC football matches, which in the first half are actual matches from history, whereas in the second half are imagined matches as Southampton go from success to success. Whilst the director may have let his imagination run a little too wild in terms of the players Southampton recruit, this is done in jest and adds good humour and background to Kenny’s story. Speaking of Southampton FC, Matt Le Tissier almost steals the show in his multiple pre-recorded film segments, acting as guardian angel to Kenny as he lurches from trouble to trouble. The inclusion of super-imposed angel wings over the Southampton legend may mean however that I can never see him in the same light again.
The play did seem a little over long, clocking in at around the 2 hour mark. At times, it did get a bit ridiculous with the sheer number of obstacles Kenny was facing, and this made it feel a little repetitive occasionally. However, the underlying story is excellent and would just perhaps benefit from a little trimming. Credit should be given to the Nuffield theatre for being adventurous both in terms of the pop-up staging and the play itself, which probably would not appeal to people outside of Southampton due to The Saints being based around the story of Southampton FC. If you have time and wish to experience a novel production which is hosted in a beautiful venue resembling a Jacobean theatre, you should go to see The Saints.
Tickets are still widely available for the performances at the Nuffield Playing Field and can be bought here.