Review: The Beautiful Game
Image: Drayton Arms Theatre
Harriet Grenville - Shannan Turner
Annabel Medland - Alice Coles
Elaine Wallace - Felicity Marsh
Grace Wardlaw - Donna Huxley
Ella Zgorska - Amy Phillips
Krystina Westall - Sarah Bright
One of biggest stars in world football suddenly announces their retirement from the game, at the age of twenty-five!
As everybody comes to terms with the shock decision, the football world and the media look for answers as to why this has happened, and begin to discover how damaging it could be not only to the player, but to the game itself ...
The 'beautiful game', as association football is affectionately known, is an attractive proposition as a subject for theatrical examination given its wealthy players, even wealthier club-owners and grasping media companies eager to get their paws on broadcast rights and ready to pay billions for them.
Money, rather than merely the love of the beautiful game seems to be one of the top motivators and that can give rise to both interesting characters and drama.
'The Beautiful Game' offers something different to boot.
Kevin Lee's play scores highly because it features an all-female cast, and therein also lies the perspective of the piece which is not, as you might have expected, focused on the inner workings of the men's game, but rather the women's.
Now my knowledge of football could easily fit on a pin head.
That shouldn't matter a jot when watching a play on the subject, because it's up to the vehicle to do the heavy lifting in describing its subject in the appropriate level of detail.
Actually, it doesn't really matter one way or another because the set-up here is crystal clear and doesn't require footballing knowledge to understand.
A talented and highly skilful young player called Shannan Turner decides - at the tender age of 25 (young in professional terms) - to pack in her career as a football star.
In fact, she's not merely a star, she's the captain of the England team and has won every cup and competition in the women's footballing almanac.
Her decision sends shockwaves around the footballing fraternity, especially those who feed from the sport.
Not content with having had the benefit of Shannan's considerable talent over a number of years, they want to keep her as a workhorse, between the shafts as it were, for a few more years yet.
That basic inciting incident could have given rise to plenty of dramatic tension as well as considerable humour.
However, there's only one obvious laugh in the whole play, plus a couple of moments that drew slight murmurs from the audience.
That seemed a missed opportunity because humour often sprouts from even the most poignant and moving settings, and football itself inspires inventive comedy - especially in comments from the stands.
Overall, the play relies on rather clinical description - which often continues for far too long.
Indeed, the whole play feels unnecessarily stretched and in need of a considerable prune.
For example, there's a long TV interview which appears like a staid trip down memory lane until the last minute or so.
There are also two problem characters whose roles in terms of the footballing fraternity are unclear, yet they seem at the heart of the plot to drag Shannan back to the pitch.
Now maybe, among the plethora of acronyms which pepper the dialogue, I missed a mention of the titles of the roles of Annabel Medland's deviously controlling Alice, and Grace Wardlaw's almost frantically exasperated Donna.
But my guess is that their roles were deliberately left unspecified.
That, though, left me worried about just who they were and what their real interests were in Shannan's future.
And a character with an obvious interest in proceedings - Shannan's current manager - seems to have been left on their own in the dressing room - an odd omission in the circumstances.
On another level, Shanann's explanation for leaving the game - that she had "lost her passion" - seemed lame for a professional footballer having had the game in her veins since childhood.
And, if she did feel that way, what would anyone have to gain by persuading her to return to the fold?
Surely a reluctant footballer is useless to anyone in terms of success on the pitch and in spreading the good news about the women's professional game?
Kevin Lee's production sports some stylish costumes and there's good work from the ensemble, especially Harriet Grenville's spirited and intuitive Shannan.
But, even with a surprising twist in the tail, the enterprise is meanderingly unrealistic, and even though it hints about what is wrong in women's football, it skirts round those more dramatically interesting and tantalising issues.
Links and related content
ActDrop listing for Drayton Arms Theatre
Our show listing for The Beautiful Game
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