Fever Pitch: The Opera, Union Chapel, London, review: a big-hearted piece of music-theatre

Alexandra Coghlan
Fever Pitch: The Opera at Union Chapel: Claudia Marinaro
Fever Pitch: The Opera at Union Chapel: Claudia Marinaro

It’s like drinking vintage champagne out of a mug, or wearing diamonds to a dive bar – there’s just something about the high/low frisson that makes the idea of a football opera irresistible to composers. Just ask Mark-Anthony Turnage, Jocelyn Pook or Benedict Mason, just some of the big names who have already tried it. With Highbury Opera’s Theatre’s latest community project Fever Pitch: The Opera you can add one more to the list.

Let’s get one thing straight from the start: Fever Pitch is no opera. What Scott Stroman and librettist Tamsin Collison have made here is a serviceable, big-hearted piece of music-theatre whose American-flavoured score (propelled stylishly along by a band husky with saxophones and electric guitars) manages to hold both children and adults, professional and amateur performers within its generous compass.

Opera might make for a better punchline, but music theatre makes for a better show, and barring the occasional longeur, this affectionate adaptation of Nick Hornby's coming-of-age tale about a young boy and his obsessions (football, girls, football again) jogs amiably and energetically along. There are a few musical goals – the West Side Story-inflected “You’ve Gotta Walk the Walk”, sung with bags of swagger by the cast’s teens, the hero’s “Love for the Team” – but also a few misses (no-one ever tugged at the heartstrings with a number about going up to Cambridge).

Will Fever Pitch have a life beyond its own community? It certainly deserves one. Arsenal might belong to Highbury, but the love of the game, the team, the girl is something we can all cheer for.