Theatre Review - Dear England

James Graham’s brilliant play is about England’s male football team and how the game feeds into the national story. It’s about sport and it’s about nation. I don’t generally engage with football but this made me laugh, cry and cheer.

Dear England is inspired by the astonishing open letter Gareth Southgate, the manager, wrote just before the (delayed) Euros 2020. He observed: “everyone has a different idea of what it actually means to be English. What pride means.” 

Southgate supported his players’ decision to “take the knee” during matches. It is some measure of his ideals and vision that he defended their right “to stand up for their teammates and the things that matter to them” as well as celebrating the modern, diverse country they represent.

Graham portrays how the team has flourished under Southgate’s inspirational leadership. Initially employed as an interim manager, he swiftly proved his worth. Despite resistance from various quarters, he was determined to do things differently and to change the narrative surrounding winning, losing and penalties.

He brought in sports psychologist, Pippa Grange (Gina McKee) to helps individual players confront their fear of failure and encourage mutual support. He reminded players of the privilege of playing for England, their role to inspire and unite a nation.         

Joseph Fiennes is tremendous. He looks the part as well as capturing  Southgate’s humility and resolve. He’s supported by a superb cast including Will Close as Harry Kane, Darragh Hand as Marcus Rashford and Lewis Shepherd as Dele Alli.

Rupert Goold’s staging and Es Devlin’s halo of light - evoking a football pitch and stadium – are thrilling.

I’ve always thought football is like theatre: the sense of spectacle, the tension, its highs and lows. Graham run with this idea and scores big time.

To August 11

Originally publshed by Westminster Extra