We went to check out Dear England when it premiered earlier this year at the National Theatre, and we enjoyed it so much we thought we’d pay a return visit now it’s transferred to the West End – it’s currently playing at the Prince Edward Theatre in Soho. As we noted at the time, a play about the English football team may not be the sort of show we’d normally feature – for a whole variety of reasons, queer people may have a difficult relationship with football and the culture that surrounds it – but this is so much more than simply a show about the sport.
In fact, we believe that this play has the potential to be a force for good – the focus is on the team during Gareth Southgate’s (Joseph Fiennes) tenure as manager, as he creates the most progressive and socially-aware England team we’ve seen. Being a James Graham play (Best of Enemies, Labour of Love) there’s a political undertone throughout, and over the course of a couple of hours we see an intelligent and thought-provoking social commentary that is considered through the lens of a series of major tournaments.
A whole range of issues are debated: we see the players speaking out against racism following the Euro 2020 final, and speaking up for LGBTQIA+ rights while in Qatar for the World Cup in 2022. We think it’s great that these important conversations are being put front and centre in a major play that’s being targeted at a football-loving demographic. As Southgate’s character in the play acknowledges, football culture in England needs to change, needs to be more progressive and inclusive and supportive; Dear England could be a vehicle that helps shape that change.
Of course, as important as this is, we’re also reviewing a play – and the action unfolding on-stage is genuinely very good. The acting is spot on – even if you’re not familiar with the England players from the last few years, there are plenty of household names from the world of football (Gary Lineker, Wayne Rooney) who make an appearance, and the likenesses and mannerisms are perfect. We don’t actually see all that much football being played, but the moments that we do see – particularly the penalty shoot outs – are incredibly dramatic. We should also give a shout out to Es Devlin’s set design – we don’t want to spoil it, but it’s all very elegant and effective.
We thoroughly enjoyed our evening with Dear England – while we acknowledge that a show about football won’t appeal to everyone, we thought it important to stress that this is very much not just a play focused on kicking a ball about. It’s an impressive social commentary which shines a light on a range of issues, including racism and sexism within the game (and society at large), and presents a compelling storyline to boot. We’d recommend picking up a ticket – even if you don’t think you like football, you might be surprised by how much you enjoy it.
GAY TIMES gives Dear England – 4/5
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