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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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Great British Mysteries – 3.5 Stars


Great British Mysteries

Soho Theatre

Reviewed – 14th May 2018


“this hour long show delivers at least a giggle in every line”


After three days on the sofa coughing and hacking and bored out of my mind I was looking forward to an evening of laughter. The first joke of the evening was the journey into Soho – my local railway network could sell their timetable as a work of fiction and humour as all online information completely contradicts the departure screen on the platform. Despite this we arrived with enough time for a medicinal drink before heading upstairs in the Soho theatre.

Very quickly the lights dimmed and the screen in front of us flickered through some of the great mysteries, myths and legends of Great Britain – and at this point you need to hear the words ‘dun dun duuuuuun’ in your head for dramatic effect.

Our hosts for the evening, Olive Bacon, a Supernaturalist not pizza topping, and Dr. Teddy Tyrell, sometimes spelled with four Ds (played brilliantly by Rose Robinson and Will Close), arrived in sensible shoes and professor tweeds to take us on a whistle stop tour of the highlights of their ‘televisual investigations’.

With gusto and an air of authority we witnessed them delve into suspicious and undocumented anomalies across the History of the British Isle. Using their eye for detail, careful field notes, and relying entirely on instinct alone, they pose questions on the identity of Jack the Ripper, what happened to the Princes in the Tower, and dared to reopen the old question regarding the gender of Elizabeth I …

With journalistic methods as minimal as their body of research, they jovially exclaim ‘evidence shmevidence’ in the face of opposition, disbelief and fact, and take us on an investigation of the Loch Ness Monster. This leads to disagreement and loss of faith, and much more hands-on detective work than ever before. The fight to prove their theories once and for all rested solely on scrap metal and a Pritt stick, can it be done?

Using a large screen to impart images familiar to us all, and with a script littered with song titles, lyrics, puns and ridiculous ‘alternative truths’ this hour long show delivers at least a giggle in every line. The audience was laughing along from the outset as this ‘mockumentory’ indeed mocked. The one or two moments where those on stage needed to stare at the ceiling, floor, or anywhere (as long as it wasn’t in the eye of their companion), in order to find composure, simply added to the amusement and the show never faltered in pace.

Having sold out at the Edinburgh Fringe last Summer, this debut show is hilarious in places and just outright funny all through. With a new ‘series of investigations’ set to hit the stage soon (again under the direction of Joseph Hancock) this should not be missed while you still have the chance. I for one can’t wait to seek out the next ‘Tibetan’ instalment of ‘Great British Mysteries?’


Reviewed by Joanna Hinson


Great British Mysteries

Soho Theatre until 19th May



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