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Dear England Review

Reviewed by Jess Green
Disclaimer: ticket was gifted on behalf of London Box Office in return for an honest review.

When it comes to football, I can be described as nothing more than philistinic, but fan of the beautiful game or not, this play is exciting, humorous and emotive enough to be a piece of stand-alone entertainment. The plot follows Gareth Southgate, from player to manager, opening with his missed penalty in the 1996 Euros Semi-Final, this scene forming the basis of both his character arc and the foundation of his relationships. Many of the abundant football references went over my head, but the play, directed by Rupert Goold, was also packed with so much British specific humour and character relatability, that I found myself laughing throughout and feeling rarely patriotic. 

Photo by Marc Brenner

Joseph Fiennes' performance as Southgate is unwaveringly excellent, doubtlessly aided by their uncanny likeness, making me warm not only to the character, but to the man himself. He manages to portray 
the character – who had the potential, in the context of the script, to be overly righteous – in an integrous and earnest way. His portrayal goes beyond an imitation, but his accurate voice came at the sacrifice of projection, and I found myself having to concentrate to decipher his articulation. 

Will Close as Harry Kane was a comedic star – it was impossible to tire of his carefully witty performance and Denzel Baidoo was perfect as a passionate, emblazoned Bukayo Saka. 

The heavy characterisation of Pippa Grange (Dervla Kerwen) was a clever tool to incorporate an almost fairy-godmother-esque morality voice into an otherwise, male dominated, quite rough and tumble plot. 
The staging is concise and clever, consisting mainly of a turning circle, movable changing room stalls and a floating oval screen. Combined with one of the most noticeably clever lighting sets I have seen in a long time, and some smartly utilised graphics, the scenes clearly ebb between locations and moods. The dynamic choreography translates football to stage in a way that feels both authentic to the sport and enjoyable to watch. 
My main criticism would be that at 2 hours and 50 minutes (inc. interval), this play is lengthier than an average West End show and the second half did feel a little drawn out. It tells a story that spans a vast amount of time and subject, meaning that depth is often sacrificed for details. I felt there were scenes that could have been cut or condensed for the sake of pace, or replaced with moments of deeper insight. For example, such social issues as sexism in sport, the pandemic, activism and racism are all touched upon, but I would have preferred to see these developed, in replacement of some of the more the surface level psychology scenes that merely nod towards an overarching change in sporting culture. 

Photo by Marc Brenner

It's certainly not Shakespeare, and feels almost like a musical sans music, but this play tells a relatable, heartwarming story to an invested and willing audience. It is enjoyable for those of us new to the sport, but is arbitrarily for the fans who have followed and supported the team through the pitch-side journey that this play depicts. This was evident from the (noticeably male heavy) crowd's palpable enjoyment, as they joined in singing the curtain call rendition of Sweet Caroline: a worthy reaction to a production that really is "So good, so good, so good..."


Tickets are available for Dear England through London Box Office

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