Written by Samuel Ness
Football meets theatre under the floodlights of London’s West End Dear England, in which James Graham brings new meaning to the beautiful game. Over the two halves, we follow Gareth Southgate’s premiership as England’s manager, exposing the painstaking highs and lows of his career as player and manager as he attempts to revolutionise England both on and off the pitch. Through the two-hour and fifty-minute run, we experience Southgate’s trailblazing techniques to counter the effects of toxic masculinity, media pressure, and racial abuse that have compromised the English side from success.
Dear England speaks directly to the nation and queries how we can better ourselves and begin to share our innermost thoughts and fears. We briefly follow the touching journeys of players Marcus Rashford (Darragh Hand) and Dele Alli (Tristan Waterson) who express their vulnerabilities and worries about a sport that seems only to relish the fruits rather than the labour. We watch from the sidelines how culture coach and psychologist Pippa Grange (Dervla Kirwan) helps Southgate transform his England side. Throughout the cultural reset, we see juvenile high jinks between the players and moments of touching sensitivity as we begin to see the foundations of trust bridge between the players. Dear England playfully highlights the journey of finding and expressing your emotions, shown openly as we watch the senior dressing room figure Jordan Henderson (Will Fletcher) begin to find his voice outside the pitch.
The stage and setting surrounding the play are just as innovative as the use of the England side as a metaphor for the country’s outlook on mental health. The stage is encircled by a halo above the actors, surrounding them with a cool glow similar to the glow of the floodlights found on the pitch. Coupled with the displaying of score lines, dates, and countdowns, the staging immerses the audience as if they were watching from the stands. The revolving circular stage deserves particular mention as it has just as integral of a place as the actors; it both lifts and creates moments in the piece whilst providing seamless entries and exits for characters, reflecting the constant change in football and ensuring the piece feels both cyclical and smooth.
Special mention must also go to the talented Denzel Baidoo who plays an 18-year-old Bakayo Saka, who embodies the journey of the piece by giving a touching and heartfelt monologue expressing the toll the abuse and pressure had on his mind throughout England’s 2021 European campaign. A true embodiment of the piece emotively carrying forward the message of the importance of opening up and seeking help in moments of need.
Dear England was showing at the Prince Edward Theatre until 13th January 2024.
Written by Samuel Ness, Edited by Anita Jergic, Photography by Paige Tamasi, Published by Paige Tamasi.