If you love football, and the English football team, then you’ll love ‘Dear England.’
Reopening after a very successful run at the National Theatre earlier this year, ‘Dear England’ tells the sad, and at times depressing tale, of the English Football Teams quest, and failure, to ‘bring it home’ in the last few championship games. Star Joseph Fiennes is an almost exact lookalike of coach Gareth Southgate – his demeanour and style is eerily an exact match. However, some of the actors playing some of the team members don’t quite come close to their real life selves.
This almost 3 hour play opens up with the search for a new coach, and Southgate easily fits the bill. Then we are introduced to the players, one by one, football match style – their names called out via loudspeaker, names splashed out on the circular screen on stage (and on the back of their shirts). This play should have enough to say about the team and their matches but in centers around a physchologist (played by Dervla Kirwan) who is brought on board by Southgate to examine why the team always lose the big games (always during penalties – which is true). She also wants to know why the team members don’t make eye contact when it comes time to kicking the ball during penalties, what makes them tick, and what is causing them to lose. But we never really don’t get an answer to any of these questions in the show. The long play continues to delve into each game, cleverly recreating the penalties action on stage (though not with a real ball). We get to witness disappointment after disappointment after disappointment in the play that follows the England men’s team under Southgate in the run-up to, and aftermath of, three tournaments: its unexpected run to the semifinals at the 2018 World Cup in Russia, its disappointing defeat in the 2020 European Championship final at Wembley Stadium, and its quarterfinal exit from the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.
‘Dear England’ is a love letter to football and the England team, with some standout performances including Fiennes, who owns and commands the stage whenever he is on, and Will Close as Harry Kane, who is just downright funny and, god forbid, spot on. We also get Marcus Rashford (Darragh Hand), Raheem Stirling (Kel Matsena), Wayne Rooney (Gunnar Cauthery), all simply ok but with not a whole lot to contribute as there are just way too many characters. We do, unfortunately, get poor caricatures of prime ministers who show up from time to time in cringy moments that are not even funny and don’t hit their mark.
It’s an impossible job, being coach , one that Roy Hodgson, Sven Goran-Erisksson and others have failed to do. And while this show doesn’t fail to entertain us, it doesn’t really rile and excite us, something it should’ve done as it focuses on a team that is near, and dear, to our heart – but breaks it every single time. ‘Dear England’ the show does a bit of that.
Now playing until January 13, 2024 – Prince Edward Theatre, London
For tickets, please go to: dearenglandonstage.com