What makes a good leader? When the low-key, soft-spoken Gareth Southgate was appointed head coach of the England men’s football team in 2016, many fans and commentators wondered if he was up for the role. I felt that there weren’t enough Kahuna suitable for , and that I was simply too kind. But over the past seven years, he has overseen a remarkable shift in the fortunes of his England side, making them stronger and more exciting to watch than at any time in recent history.
The ups and downs of Southgate’s tenure are captured in Rupert Gould’s “Dear England,” a playful and morally serious play that runs until 11 August at London’s National Theatre. there is It’s a playful story full of irreverent humor, but the story is almost hagiographic, and its core message of embracing male vulnerability is tediously crafted.
The play chronicles the team’s involvement in the last three major tournaments, beginning with a surprise run to the semi-finals of the 2018 Russia World Cup. They then suffered a crushing defeat to Italy in the Euro 2020 final, followed by an impressive performance in last year’s Qatar World Cup with an unfortunate quarter-final exit.
The action on the field is evoked through dynamic set pieces choreographed by Ellen Kane and Hannes Langolph, with players playing key moments in elaborate simulations, slow-motion sequences and freeze-frame goal celebrations. is equipped with These are kitschy, but thankfully kept brief since most of the activity takes place off the pitch, such as locker rooms, team meetings and press conferences, and the setting is smartly simple by designer Es Devlin. expressed.
Joseph Fiennes stands out as Southgate, portrayed as a low-key but assertive, relatable father figure to his younger self. As England captain and star player Harry Kane, Will Close plays a role notorious for his striker’s brevity, providing a contrast to the manager’s earnest narrative. Adam Hugill is an equally entertaining defender Harry Maguire, and he’s portrayed as a lovable naive. He’s not the sharpest tool in the box, but he’s solid and dependable. Kel Matzena joins Bukayo Saka (Ebenezer Gau) as Raheem Sterling, who speaks out against racism as black players in England are being abused.
The main female character in this inevitably male-dominated line-up is sports psychologist Pippa Grange (Gina・Mackey). When one of the unreconstructed coaching staff questioned the need for her services, she reminded him that psychology was at the root of England’s past failures. “This is a man, whether he deals with fear or not,” she says.
The play’s author, James Graham, is best known for his political drama with such hits as Ink and Best of Enemies, and Dear England has a decidedly activist undertone. Southgate’s genial temperament, emotional intelligence, and left-leaning politics — he has supported Black Lives Matter and been outspoken about mental health issues — is something of a reactionary sports jock. is very interesting for So it’s tempting to see his story as an allegory of the culture wars, pitting sensitive liberalism against old-fashioned masculinity.
Unfortunately, the play leans a little too far on this point, with several recent British Conservative Prime Ministers such as Theresa May, Boris Johnson and Liz Truss making pantomime cameos and an international London audience. It panders to the prejudices to which theatergoers are subject, and is perceived as favorable and favorable. egotistical. This picks up speed in the second half, but it’s a lot less fun and feels rushed. 2020 and his 2022 tournament rattle off with a sense of speed as opposed to the leisurely pace before the break.
Southgate’s playing career is best remembered for a crucial error in the penalty shootout against Germany in the 1996 European Championship semi-final in London, which resulted in England’s exit from the competition. . The story of personal redemption forms a compelling subplot of the main story, but it’s a cruel irony that Southgate’s England side also lost on penalties at home in the Euro 2020 final. Southgate has yet to win a trophy — England’s men’s team has yet to win a major tournament since 1966 — but he remains a powerful trump card for skeptics. So the play’s celebratory tenor feels a little out of place.
But “Dear England” isn’t talking about sports, it’s about culture. The narrative grossly underestimates the technical and tactical underpinnings of the England team’s comeback. A team’s on-field improvement is directly linked to a shift in moral values, giving us the understanding that correlation equals causation. Even with a full understanding of everything Southgate stands for, this can also feel tediously simple.
Until August 11th at the National Theater in London. national theater.org.uk