In what seems to be a recent pattern- here is my latest sports related theatre review. Dear England, is currently being performed in the Olivier Theatre at the National. It is about the journey the men’s England football team have been on since Gareth Southgate took over. We take a tour through Southgate’s reign, his own three-act structure, visiting the 2018 World Cup in Russia, 2021 Euros and finally the 2022 World in Qatar. Despite knowing how each of these events play out, you can’t help but become invested and sit on the edge of your seat as if the penalties are actually live!
Penalties are a constant theme throughout the production, as they are through England’s history. The production kicks off with Gareth himself missing the penalty in that infamous 1966 moment, building up to the moment Harry Kane misses the penalty in 2022 and England dive out of the tournament. The true story is how England has changed. The abuse that Gareth received following his miss, the racial abuse that Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho and Bukayo Saka received following their misses and finally the feeling of growth as Harry Kane misses his penalty. England no longer seem to be taking the result so personally- and the support that has been building within the team for each other helps pull a disappointed Kane through.
One of the big parts of this story is the introduction of psychologist, Pippa Grange, played by Gina McKee. She slowly fights against the criticism to make a real change to the team. Creating support and trust between the players, she encourages them to share, to keep journals and even bans them from sitting only with the players from their club. McKee is a strong figure, often the only female on stage with fourteen other men, and yet her quiet and collected presence shows her confidence in what she is doing. She doesn’t let the jeers of the team and other coaches set her back- barely even dignifying them with a response. She is certainly a standout performance.
However, the standout performance really does go to Joseph Fiennes who plays Gareth Southgate. Not only does he eerily look like Gareth especially when donning his famous waistcoat appearance, his performance is incredibly believable. It is endearing, geeky and caring. You certainly leave the performance feeling like you could be his best friend- it is easy to forget that at the end of the day it is James Graham’s fictionalised version of the real events. A little different to Graham’s usual political-focused works, it is still a fantastically enjoyable play. It still throws slightly to his area of expertise with appearances from Theresa May, Liz Truss, and Boris Johnson. As expected, although the story we are telling is of football, the themes that occur are a lot more serious- with touches on racism, what it means to be British, and the place of politics in football.
However, although there are often serious undertones, I can’t explain just how funny Dear England really is. The portrayals of some very famous faces, including Gary Lineker and Wayne Rooney are sometimes so spot on its hilarious. Special credit must go to Adam Hugill as Harry Maguire, Will Close as Harry Kane and Josh Barrow as Jordan Pickford. This fantastic production has incredible direction from Rupert Goold, movement direction from Ellen Kane and Hannes Langolf, and set design from Es Devlin. You really do feel like you’re sat in Wembley Stadium- and who can forget the audience on their feet joining the cast in singing Sweet Caroline.
- Show title: Dear England
- Venue: National Theatre
- Review date: Wednesday 2nd August