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Dear England at Prince Edward Theatre | Review

I’m an aficionado. I love football – a lifelong team supporter and England follower: I’ve been to matches at the old Wembley, the new Wembley and I’ve been chased by rampant Russians and cs-gassed in Marseilles at the Euro 2016 championships. So Dear England is definitely a play for me. It’s a first-rate script by James Graham, who never seems to put a foot wrong; superb acting – led by Joseph Fiennes as Gareth Southgate; outstanding ensemble work by a cast of 26; excellent and clever staging by Director Rupert Goold; scintillating choreography by Movement Directors Ellen Kane and Hannes Langolf; a great Set (Es Devlin) and Lighting (Jon Clark) whilst Sound Designers Dan Balfour and Tom Gibbons give us a pulsating and urgent soundscape that keeps us on the edge of our seats through the inevitable football-action sequences.

Joseph Fiennes (Gareth Southgate) in Dear England at the National Theatre. Photo by Marc Brenner.
Joseph Fiennes (Gareth Southgate) in Dear England at the National Theatre. Photo by Marc Brenner.

But yet… Will the person who goes quiet at the water cooler huddle, and who creeps away unnoticed when the conversation turns to last night’s match, get anything out of the show? I don’t know – I would hope so because of the superlative production values that one would expect from a West End Transfer of a National Theatre show – but I can imagine there will be people who might find those action sequences, replaying penalty shoot-outs, just a little tedious. But it is gripping and the characterisation – particularly of football manager, cod-philosopher and heart-on-his-sleeve carrier of baggage (he MISSED a penalty and did a funny pizza ad on the strength of it) – Southgate is a winner (as Pet Shop Boys might say – though he isn’t – yet).

But it’s also characterisation that I take issue with and I think is a fault in an otherwise outstanding show. It suffers from what I determine as the Winston Churchill convention: Churchill hated his 80th birthday gift from parliament – a portrait by Graham Sutherland. He said, “It makes me look half‐witted, which I ain’t”. Harry Kane, in this show, suffers a complete theatrical character assassination portrayed here as he is – by Will Close – as a moron. Kane, the England captain in the play, is still alive; he is still the England captain – scored a spectacular individual goal just two days ago; He’s England’s all-time top scorer with 61 goals (to date); he’s a family man with four children; he goes into schools, and clubs and does great charity work; he sponsors the team shirts of a lower level club; he is gracious in defeat and understated in victory; he’s loyal and compassionate and an exceptional role model. Dear England portrays him as half-witted; and half-witted he ain’t.

No doubt the raucous social media debate around him fed into this characterisation which is inevitably bitter and one-sided. It’s a shame that the play has to kow-tow to that perspective showing Kane as slow, thick, devoid of emotion and unimaginative. It’s done, of course, for cheap laughs and there are cheap laughs a-plenty. But Kane has no right of reply and my fear is that this just fuels the anti-Kane agenda and it’s something, the acrimony, that he, and his family, and particularly his four children, will have to endure.

As I intimated earlier, those of us who have football ingrained in our souls will find much to admire in Dear England. But I’m not sure that theatre should be a kind of modern-day stocks to put good people in for the entertainment of the social media rabble.

4 stars

Review by Peter Yates

Joseph Fiennes will reprise his role as Gareth Southgate alongside Dervla Kirwan in the role of Pippa Grange, sports psychologist and Head of People and Team Development at The Football Association from 2017 until 2019.

The cast also includes Denzel Baidoo as Bukayo Saka, Josh Barrow as Jordan Pickford, Gunnar Cauthery as Gary Lineker, Will Close as Harry Kane, Crystal Condie as Alex Scott, Will Fletcher as Jordan Henderson, Darragh Hand as Marcus Rashford, John Hodgkinson as Greg Clarke, Lloyd Hutchinson as Sam Allardyce, Albert Magashi as Jadon Sancho, Kel Matsena as Raheem Sterling, Lewis Shepherd as Dele Alli, Griffin Stevens as Harry Maguire, Paul Thornley as Mike Webster, Tony Turner as Greg Dyke, Ryan Whittle as Eric Dier. Nick Barclay, Tashinga Bepete, Kate Kelly Flood, Will Harrison-Wallace, Miranda Heath, Tom Mahy and Tristan Waterson complete the company.

9 October 2023 – 13 January 2024
Prince Edward Theatre Old Compton St London W1D 4HS

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Author

  • Peter Yates

    Peter has a long involvement in the theatrical world as playwright, producer, director and designer. His theatre company Random Cactus has taken many shows to the Edinburgh Fringe, the London Fringe and elsewhere and he has been associated with the Wireless Theatre Company since its inception where his short play Lie Detector can be heard: Wireless Theatre Company.

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