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The Beautiful Game at The Drayton Arms Theatre | Review

The Beautiful GameNot so much ninety minutes, but more ninety minutes plus stoppage time, extra time and however long a penalty shootout would be reasonably expected to last, The Beautiful Game gives a comprehensive overview of the women’s football industry – ‘industry’ being the operative word – through the chapter in the life of Shannan Turner (Harriet Grenville), who decides to stop playing professional football at the age of twenty-five. Aside from having at least five more years of a top-flight playing career at her fingertips, I couldn’t see the problem with wanting a change of lifestyle, and I could even see her point of view. Having led, as England captain, the national side to a World Cup victory, and having won something called ‘World Footballer of the Year’ (I assume this really meant ‘The Best FIFA Women’s Player’), she was seeking a fresh challenge.

But, as the narrative eventually makes clear, there are implications of leaving the sport at that level at that age without having some extenuating circumstances or other, such as a life-changing injury, partly because of media speculation. Considerable attention in the play is given over to handling the press, both by Felicity Marsh (Elaine Wallace), Turner’s agent, and Alice Coles (Annabel Medland), described by a fellow audience member as ‘the boss’ – I couldn’t quite place what her role precisely entailed. Donna Huxley (Grace Wardlaw) seemed to me to be rather less helpful than Coles, though the pair were seldom apart on stage, and I couldn’t help wondering if the pair were playing ‘good cop, bad cop’ with Turner during one meeting, such were their opposing approaches.

This was the sort of play that came across as a series of conversations, and while the script appears to be well-researched (I can only commit to ‘appears to be’ as my own knowledge of the football industry is negligible), the production can sometimes be a victim of its own success. Coles, for instance, in conversation with Huxley, talks at length about ways of handling the fallout from Turner’s resignation, which may be of interest to those who want to know about how high-profile organisations like football clubs deal with the writings and opinions of the media, but otherwise, it’s a bit of a wait until the storyline returns to Turner herself.

Not everything is made clear about Turner: there’s a late plot twist, but the details of what exactly it is that could make Turner’s reputation irreparable remain elusive, or even if it is true. It is enough, however, to make Turner re-evaluate her original decision to have nothing to do with football ever again – and her chosen future career path is not what the likes of Coles and Huxley were expecting.

Completing the set of on-stage characters are Sarah Bright (Krystina Westall), a talk show host who grills, or tries to grill Turner on a wide range of subjects, and Amy Phillips (Ella Zgorska), a fellow footballer who comes to Turner for advice.

Although it was interesting overall for people like me who attend the theatre rather than sporting fixtures, I suspect some of the issues raised are already known to people familiar with the football world. There’s something to be said about Turner’s repulsion at being treated, in her words, as a ‘commodity’ – that is, as an item with a (very expensive) price tag attached to it. I liked the ending – it’s a conclusion I didn’t see coming. It’s heavy going at times, and the production could have been a tad pacier. That said, it’s a good demonstration of how vocabulary control can sometimes matter more than ball control.

3 Star Review

Review by Chris Omaweng

The play looks at the business of football and is set in the near future with the women’s game competing with the men’s for popularity. The story centres on a young footballer, Shannan Turner, who is highly regarded as the most talented player of her generation.

At the peak of Shannan’s playing career, she suddenly announces her retirement at the age of twenty-five, citing reasons that she has fallen out of love with the game, having become discontent with the demands of the profession, her celebrity status, and the weight of expectation burdened upon her.

Featuring an all-female cast, the play follows Shannan as she makes her journey away from the game which she once loved. But it soon turns out that it might be harder to leave than first thought.

With the world of football in shock, and the relentless media backlash against her, will Shannan be forced to make a comeback which is out of her control?

Production Team
Writer / Director: Kevin Lee
Cast includes: Harriet Grenville, Annabel Medland, Grace Wardlaw, Ella Zgorska
Lighting designer: Ali Hunter

The Drayton Arms Theatre, 153 Old Brompton Road, Kensington London, SW5 0LJ
Dates: Tuesday 28th August to Saturday 1st September 2018
https://thedraytonarmstheatre.co.uk/

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