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Dear England

Dear England


Prince Edward Theatre

DEAR ENGLAND at the Prince Edward Theatre


Dear England

“This is a football play for people who don’t necessarily like football”

James Graham is writing history in real time. This open-ended chronicle of Gareth Southgate’s turnaround of the England Men’s football team’s footballing culture has built a rightful reputation as a modern sporting and theatrical epic.

Graham is known more for his political writing (including Olivier nominated This House and Best of Enemies), and here transports the debate chamber to the St George’s Park locker room over a six year period. Unexpectedly awarded the England job after Sam Allardyce’s indiscretions, Southgate steps up to first team coach, and sets about fixing what he sees is lacking from the England set up. This involves what one of the old-school physios dismisses as ‘soft stuff’, including introducing psychologist Dr Pippa Grange (played by a vibrant Dervla Kirwan) to change the team culture.

Thus starts the battle between the old and the new, the internal and the external, the brain and the brawn.

The title refers to an open letter Southgate wrote in 2021, when he eschewed de rigeur social media to connect to England fans in his own way, whilst encouraging his team to find out what playing for England means for them. The second act of the play in particular explores the pressures on the team as they struggle to define themselves against traditional expectations.

Given this focus on the internality, there’s (for some theatre-goers, thankfully) not too much exploration of the minutiae of football. No-one will be tested about the intricacies of the offside rule. Indeed, there is a lovely section where Southgate sets out his philosophy as a vision across three acts. The most football you get are the crucial penalty shootouts. These again switch the focus from the act of kicking to the mind behind the boot. Director Rupert Goold changes the set up of these throughout the piece, highlighting the churning psychology behind each.

“These are played with cartoonish guile by the excellent supporting ensemble”

Above the stage (set design Es Devlin) is a large suspended ring of light, reminiscent of the Wembley Arch and many a footballing logo. The ring also features graphics, at one stage resembling a zoetrope of penalty taking failures past (lighting design Jon Clark and video design Ash J Woodward). The stage itself has concentric rotating circles that add movement to larger crowd sequences, which feature a hilarious cast representing modern Britain, and the England team training sessions which are directed as balletic pieces with music to match.

Initially there are also individual lockers that are moved across the stage, often featuring hanging England football shirts. The first act takes place with a vintage selection, immediately establishing the history that has hung like a yoke, weighed down with that single tournament victory sixty years ago.

As Southgate, Joseph Fiennes is excellent at subtly reminding the audience of this pressure, and the missed penalty that is never far from his mind. His attention to detail of Southgate’s mannerisms is also uncanny. Little gestures, like the single finger scratch below the ear, and vocal fillers are spot on. Will Close as the inarticulate Harry Kane, Griffin Stevens as Harry Maguire, also elicit laughs every time they speak, playing with our tabloid understanding of the players. Kel Matsena also does a great job as Raheem Sterling, whose poignant comments about the racism he faced on the pitch echo on.

Graham can’t resist poking a little fun at the rotating carousel of politicians since 2016 who could take a leaf out of Dr Pippa Grange’s books about failing well. These are played with cartoonish guile by the excellent supporting ensemble, and are greeted with roars from the audience.

The wonderful costumes (Evie Gurney) here help tell the story of time passing. The team England jerseys are replaced between each of the main tournaments and matches, and this attention to detail immediately places you back to the exact pub, settee, or stadium where you were watching that year’s attempt to end the years of hurt.

I really enjoyed the cameos from Crystal Condie playing Alex Scott, the former Lioness and current pundit. Though England’s football history has been centred around the men’s team, you have a feeling the sequel will feature more women.

This is a football play for people who don’t necessarily like football. Just note, you are unlikely to get state-of-the-nation writing this good at your local terraces this weekend.

DEAR ENGLAND at the Prince Edward Theatre

Reviewed on 19th October 2023

by Rosie Thomas

Photography by Marc Brenner





Previously reviewed at this venue:

Ain’t Too Proud | ★★★ | April 2023

Dear England

Dear England

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Not Quite Jerusalem


Finborough Theatre

Not Quite Jerusalem

Not Quite Jerusalem

Finborough Theatre

Reviewed – 6th March 2020



“Joe McArdle and Ronnie Yorke provide a terrific double act as the loud-mouthed Dave and Pete, proving the traditional loutish view of the English abroad”


Forty years ago the ground-breaking Finborough Theatre opened its doors for the first time. To celebrate its anniversary it presents the first new UK production in 40 years of Paul Kember’s award-winning 1980 comedy-drama “Not Quite Jerusalem.”

First seen at the Royal Court the play has some staying power, not least because it proves that nothing changes: the shock is that it could have been written yesterday.

Four young people escape a divided England and lives they would rather forget for an Israeli kibbutz, which they think will be a fun working holiday with sun, sex and sightseeing. In reality they upset their hosts, alienate their fellow kibbutzniks and suffer hard labour in the blistering heat.

On the surface the play is a perfectly respectable comedy drama with a romantic interest, comic characters and a taste of what was, for many young people of the time, an exciting and exotic way of taking time out discovering the world.

Taking that side alone it is true that the piece feels a little dated. But what director Peter Kavanagh and the six-strong cast achieve is to tease out the shadowy heart of the work, which reflects on the sensibilities of life in England’s green and pleasant land and to glimpse ourselves as others see us in an uncomfortable culture clash.

The four youngsters couldn’t be more different: there’s Mike, the laid back Cambridge student who simply walked out of his course and out of contact with his parents; Carrie, the nervous aspiring artist with issues; Dave, the vulgar northerner; and Essex lad Pete, constantly keen to check out the local talent. Also at hand are the kibbutz manager Ami and a fiery and plain-speaking Israeli girl Gila.

Kember doesn’t make it easy to like any of these characters and none of them is particularly well-drawn apart from Mike. So it is to the credit of the performers that they manage to drag the play away from its regular big speeches and navel-gazing to present genuine people in an authentic setting with all too real problems.

Ryan Whittle’s languid Mike starts out by sharing the laziness of the other Brits, but we gain insight into his passions and patriotism. He is well-balanced by the most interesting character, Ailsa Joy’s spirited Gila, and the careful contrast of their performances make their tentative romance all the more credible as both so fiercely represent their cultures and homelands.

Joe McArdle and Ronnie Yorke provide a terrific double act as the loud-mouthed Dave and Pete, proving the traditional loutish view of the English abroad. Their version of “Underneath the Arches,” as part of an entertainment where all the kibbutzniks have to perform something that represents their country, is a comic delight with an ending that says all there is to say about how disgruntled and browbeaten Englanders see their identity.

Miranda Braun does well with the slightly-written Carrie, the undeserving butt of so many of Dave and Pete’s remarks, though it’s hard to deal with the character’s inconsistency from one scene to the next. Russell Bentley holds things nicely together as a calm Ami.

The staging has seating on three sides which gives a suitably claustrophobic feel to the kibbutz set (Ceci Calf) and there are some beautiful moments in the lighting (Ryan Stafford), particularly when the Middle Eastern sun beams life, light and promise through the wooden slats.

“Not Quite Jerusalem” has not quite survived the test of time, but still manages to come across thanks to this production as a disturbing and challenging state of the nation commentary.


Reviewed by David Guest

Photography by Kirsten McTernan


Not Quite Jerusalem

Finborough Theatre until 28th March


Last ten shows reviewed at this venue:
Time Is Love | ★★★½ | January 2019
A Lesson From Aloes | ★★★★★ | March 2019
Maggie May     | ★★★★ | March 2019
Blueprint Medea | ★★★ | May 2019
After Dark; Or, A Drama Of London Life | ★★★★ | June 2019
Go Bang Your Tambourine | ★★★★ | August 2019
The Niceties | ★★★ | October 2019
Chemistry | ★★★ | November 2019
Scrounger | ★★★★ | January 2020
On McQuillan’s Hill | ★★★★ | February 2020


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