Dear England ★★★★★ Prince Edward Theatre | Oct 9, 2023 - Jan 13, 2024

You don't have to be a football fan, or indeed, have any knowledge of the sport or its history to appreciate James Graham's insightful new play. While the framework of the narrative might be how Gareth Southgate becomes the manager of the England team and brings a new approach to its quest for success, the themes are universal. Ostensibly, the story is about how Southgate takes a collection of individuals and egos and turns them into a unified team which can deal with both success and failure. However, his reframing of their goals and commitment becomes an engaging commentary that transcends the beautiful game and explores the challenges that we all face in life. Failure, fear of not meeting expectations and a sense of isolation are universal experiences. The play also offers a fascinating parallel with the current political situation. Having lost its imperial self-conception and great power status, England's inability to cope and play as a team member with either its fellow home nations or its European counterparts is wryly exposed. As the diffident, but determined, Southgate, Joseph Fiennes does a first-rate job. He has the mannerisms down pat, but he also brings an inner conviction to the performance that is quite mesmerising. Fiennes is well supported by an extremely strong cast, and we particularly liked Will Close's Harry Kane and Gunnar Cauthery's Gary Lineker. Director, Rupert Goold, does a simply splendid job of pacing the show, and it provides all the adrenalin rush of a real match, while Es Devlin has created a wonderfully versatile and evocative set that situates us both in the locker room and on the pitch. Putting aside all the hackneyed quotes comparing sports and life, Dear England is a terrific production that has a great deal to say about both.

Rated: ★★★★★

Reviewed by J.C.
Photo Marc Brenner

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