The Beautiful Game
Drayton Arms Theatre
Reviewed – 30th August 2018
“Simultaneously exciting through the potential plots it teases at, and disappointing in how the whole thing is executed”
Shannan Turner (Harriet Grenville) is a football superstar. She’s played for the best clubs in the world, won awards and medals aplenty, and is at the peak of her physical game. It comes as some shock then – to her fans and colleagues alike – when she decides to retire at the tender age of twenty-five, and it’s this boat-rocking decision that kickstarts Kevin Lee’s intriguing character study. The show hints at the career-ruining skeletons in Shannan’s locker, we meet the new star kid on the block, there’s a blackmail attempt and, as the final whistle blows, a surprising twist reveals the real message behind the script.
Simultaneously exciting through the potential plots it teases at, and disappointing in how the whole thing is executed, writer/director Lee’s script is a mixed bag. Shannan’s war against the pressures inherent in being a highly paid footballer is cleverly realised and the final press conference where she surprises everyone all over again with her decision to go back to the roots of her footballing passion is a powerful moment of self-determination. However, Lee misses a trick by drawing out scenes with unnecessary information and allowing the most interesting aspects of Shannan’s character to go on unchallenged and unexplored.
Reminiscent of Lauryn Hill’s recent response to accusations about her behaviour to fellow musicians, Shannan is stoically non-apologetic for any misdemeanours other people may have accused her of. The staging, a simple football pitch drawn in perspective, neatly highlights her assertion that “there are different sides to every story”. To have seen more of Shannan’s fall and redemption on stage would have made this script a winner.
Grace Wardlaw as the put-upon Donna Huxley and Ella Zgorska playing the up-and-coming star of the game Amy Phillips both steal the show with convincing, funny performances. Throughout, all characters are well-realised through costume and physicality, leaving the audience in no doubt as to who is who, but these two stand out for seeming relaxed, confident and in control on stage. It’s the eclectic mix of character types all fighting for the same thing that make this show entertaining, and for football fans and pundits alike, they are sure to be recognisable figures from the off.
In the hubbub around the politics of World Cups and Premier Leagues, ‘The Beautiful Game’ is an inspiring story of rediscovering lost passion, and will surely inspire many, footballers and non-sportspeople alike.
Reviewed by Joseph Prestwich
The Beautiful Game
Drayton Arms Theatre until 1st September