Dear England at Prince Edward Theatre
Debuting at the Prince Edward Theatre after a sell-out run at the National Theatre, Dear England is the gripping story of former football star Gareth Southgate’s journey to becoming England manager, as well as being a dramatised and agonising recollection of the sportsmanship, teamwork and feeling demonstrated by the young England hopefuls across multiple years.
Directed effortlessly, with an appropriate mix of comedy and drama by Rupert Goold, the production follows a three-act structure detailing conversations between Southgate and his squad, their psychologist, Pippa Grange (Dervla Kirwan) and the crucial figures in the management of the England team.
Although the show does follow a chronological timeline, each scene blends into the next with the presence of crosses, as our ensemble cast moves props from different positions on the curved Prince Edward stage.
There is a sense of anticipation and unity as the play depicts the connection of a country, brought together by the community of football, under one man’s unwavering leadership. To break up the somewhat depressing subject matter depending on if you’re a football hooligan or not), is the hysterical cameos from the political figures that Goold brings in, such as a mop-headed bumbling Boris Johnson (Will Harrison-Wallace) and the funny foolish and Theresa May, executed brilliantly by Miranda Heath.
The play offers up many laugh-out-loud moments, particularly between the lads, through Graham’s witty dialogue and jokes. A stand-out scene is where, after their loss, the players decide to dance in a silly way to pick themselves up.
For our lookalike England squad, casting director Bryrony Jarvis-Taylor hit it out of the park with Harry Kane, Jordan Pickford and Raheem Sterling. Will Close in the role of Kane is an exaggerated but very accurate portrayal of the England captain, although with his comedic timing, the emotion from the scene where Kane misses the World Cup penalty against France is lacking, and the outcome doesn’t seem significant to himself or to Southgate.
The same can be said for the underuse of Bukayo Saka (Denzel Baidoo) in the play’s second and third acts. Although Jon Clark’s design of the luminous white oval lighting that hangs over the stage is very much representative of a football stadium, the red lighting choice after Saka misses the potential winning penalty against Italy during the 2020 Euros is the only memorable part about the scene. Saka’s struggle with missing the penalty and the racist comments he received afterwards, should’ve been a focal point of the play. And yet, Joseph Fiennes’ Southgate barely gets the dialogue he needs to comfort the young boy.
However, as a complete production, Dear England shoots and scores in its messaging: it captures the struggles of elite sport, Southgate’s milestones as England manager, the growth of the selected England squad and their dynamic as a team, and the inevitable highs and lows of English football. For a good laugh, buckets of nostalgia and creative stage work, Dear England is a must-see for those who love the chronicles of footie.
Images: Marc Brenner
Dear England is at Prince Edward Theatre from 20th October until 13th January 2024. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.