A very Highbury story
Islington’s very own Highbury Opera Theatre will perform the first musical staging of Nick Hornby’s book ‘Fever Pitch’ this September at the Union Chapel, in the heart of the borough where the book is set.
It is 25 years since the book, which explores the author’s obsession with Arsenal Football Club, was first published. It has been made into a play and two feature films, but has never before staged in musical form.
Artistic director and composer Scott Stroman is the man behind the idea. Originally from the United States, he has lived in Highbury for the past 35 years and is a big Arsenal supporter. “My whole family’s been really wrapped up in Arsenal for a long time,” he says.
“The idea just occurred to me. It was for me really, I wanted to write an opera that wasn’t an opera. I knew the book very well and thought it was ideal.
“I just floated the idea to our community and the whole thing just took off, and it’s just gone from there. Everyone just seemed to get on the boat really quickly.”
The production is very much a local story, with the book based in Islington and Scott often writing the musical score at home whilst watching an Arsenal match.
“There were scenes where in the opera the team were losing, yet on the television they were winning. Then at other times it is a reflection of real life emotions that were happening while I was creating the music,” he says.
“Fever Pitch is a story, it’s a memoir, it’s one person’s long time obsession with his football club,” explains Scott. “Both of the movies focussed on the romantic comedy aspect of his relationship. We have that, but the central thing is about one guy trying to come to terms with this obsession with his club.
“With the opera I’ve gone back to the book. It is still a comedy, but more based around his central struggle with his obsession.”
Scott is a Fellow of the Guildhall School of Music & Drama and has won the BBC Big Band Contest six times and made four albums as director of the Guildhall Jazz Band. He teaches jazz composition, arranging and performance.
“Highbury Opera Theatre is a mix of professional and amateur. We don’t compromise artistically and we work in a professional environment. But we can do things that we wouldn’t be able to do if it was all professional. Our amateurs do it for the love of music and the passion and enthusiasm they have is infectious.”
The theatre also run workshops with schools in Islington, Camden and Hackney to introduce the pupils to music and theatre.
“Someone came to my school, they were playing the guitar and I thought wow, that’s what I want to do,” says Scott. “We’re opening the door to new possibilities and interests. We believe so passionately in what we’re doing and we want everyone to experience it.”
Fever Pitch the Opera will be staged in a limited run from 21-24 September at the Union Chapel.