MIKRON Theatre Company kick off their 2020 tour of Amanda Whittington’s new women’s football play, Atalanta Forever, on April 18.
Waiting in the wings is the Marsden company’s York performance at Scarcroft Allotments on June 2 at 6pm.
From the writer of Ladies Day, Ladies Day Down Under and Mighty Atoms for Hull Truck Theatre and Bollywood Jane for the West Yorkshire Playhouse, Atalanta Forever tells the story of pioneering women footballers in 1920.
In post-war Britain, women’s football is big news. Across the country, all-girl teams are pulling huge crowds in fund-raising games for wounded soldiers.
Huddersfield amateurs Ethel and Annie take a shot at the big time. Teammates at Atalanta AFC, they are soon tackling new football skills, mastering the offside rule and kicking back at the doubters.
This summer’s audiences are invited to “come and cheer for Atalanta as our plucky underdogs learn how to play the game, take on the legendary teams of the era and find the toughest opponent of all is the Football Association”.
Whittington’s play is based on the true story of one of three women’s football teams in Huddersfield in post-war Britain. As told through the lives of two young women, Atalanta Ladies Football Club was formed in 1920 to “provide games for the women of Huddersfield, to foster a sporting spirit, and a love of honour among its members”.
During the Great War, several women’s football teams had sprung up around the country, usually based in factories or munitions works, and proved a great success in raising money for hospitals, war widows and so on.
The popularity of the women’s game may be measured by the estimated 25,000 crowd that packed Hillsborough, Sheffield, for the Huddersfield team’s next game with the Dick, Kerr Ladies FC of Preston on May 4, when they lost 4-0 to their much more experienced opponents.
In the wider football world, the growing popularity of women’s football was now causing concern. The FA even saw it as taking support away from the men’s game and on December 5, 1921, they banned women’s teams from using FA affiliated grounds.
Before folding in 1924, the pioneering Huddersfield Atalanta Ladies FC had raised more than £2,000 for various charities.
Writer and co-lyricist Whittington says of her new play: “I was an 11-year-old footballer in the 1980s, the only girl who played in the boys’ village tournament, and I vividly remember being ‘advised’ to stop because it wasn’t appropriate.
“I still feel the injustice and the sense of shame for wanting to do something I wasn’t meant to.
“It brings joy to my heart to see football’s now the biggest team sport for girls in Britain. I wanted to write about the battle the women’s game has fought to survive and prosper – and perhaps to tell the 11-year-old me she was right?”
Atalanta Forever is directed by Mikron artistic director Marianne McNamara, who is joined in the production team by composer and co-lyricist Kieran Buckeridge, musical director Rebekah Hughes and designer Celia Perkins. Casting will be announced in the coming months.
Explaining why Mikron chose to tackle the subject of the fight for women’s football, McNamara says: “Women’s football is making a comeback and not before time. We are thrilled to pay homage to the trailblazing Huddersfield women that paved the way against all odds.
“Just like the great game itself, this will be an action-packed play of two halves, full of live music, fun and laughter with no plans for extra time!”
Mikron’s 49th year of touring will open at the National Football Museum, Manchester, on April 18 and then travel nationally by road and canal on a vintage narrowboat until October 24.
Atalanta Forever will be touring alongside Poppy Hollman’s new play, A Dog’s Tale, a celebration of canines past and present that explores the enduring love between people and their dogs.
As ever, Mikron will be putting on their shows in “places that other theatre companies wouldn’t dream of”, whether a play about growing-your-own veg, presented in allotments; one about bees performed next to hives; another about chips in a fish and chips restaurant, as well as plays about hostelling in YHA youth hostels and the RNLI at several lifeboat stations around the UK.
For more information and tour dates and locations for Atalanta Forever, go to mikron.org.uk/shows/atalanta-forever.