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Learn all about football in theatre as we follow the Euros 2024 drama | London Theatre



Learn all about football in theatre as we follow the Euros 2024 drama | London Theatre

From The Bounds and Dear England to Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Beautiful Game, these sporty shows hit the back of the net.

It’s coming home! This summer, the drama on our stages is matched by ecstatic highs and heartbreaking lows on the pitch as football fans watch their teams progress (or not, in Scotland’s case) through the Euros 2024.

Footie has also had a great run recently in theatre, from James Graham’s Olivier Award-winning play Dear England through to plucky new signing Red Pitch, which punted the ball all the way from the Bush Theatre to the West End.

No wonder: this is a sport with inherent drama, featuring as it does winners and losers, the tension between individual brilliance and the team ethos, veterans and young stars, and the almighty pressure that nations place on their teams – and on coaches like Gareth Southgate and captains such as Harry Kane.

So, join us as we commentate on all the current and recent football highlights on British stages. At least it’s a bit less stressful than cheering on England…

The Bounds (2024)

Stewart Pringle’s inventive new play takes place during a Tudor football match in 1554: the Allen Valley Whitsun Game, which sees a whole village compete against its neighbour. Percy and Rowan are, in theory, defending the western boundary (but are really stuck far from the action), and it’s there that they’re discovered by a nefarious aristocrat, as Pringle’s riveting piece moves into power structures and folk horror – memorably conveyed in Jack McNamara’s unsettling production.

Book The Bounds tickets on London Theatre.

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Dear England (2023)

The theatre equivalent of lifting the World Cup, James Graham won an Olivier for this witty and sneakily profound look at how Gareth Southgate transformed the England team – and addressed wider issues around masculinity, mental health, and national identity. Will Close also scored an Olivier for his uncanny Harry Kane, while Joseph Fiennes was an empathetic Southgate. Rupert Goold’s National Theatre production transferred to the West End in October 2023, and the show will return to its first home for a 10-week run in March 2025, with new material reflecting the England team’s performance at this summer’s Euros. A TV adaptation is also due to follow.

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Red Pitch (2022)

Tyrell Williams hit the back of the net with his assured debut play about three football-loving teenage friends (Kedar Williams-Stirling, Francis Lovehall, and Emeka Sesay) who dream of turning pro. But they’re in danger of losing their local pitch, and their community, to gentrification. This heartfelt and funny coming-of-age tale had great runs at first the Bush and then West End venue @sohoplace, with director Daniel Bailey cleverly weaving football action into the drama.

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Marvellous (2022)

It’s not just the players who deserve the spotlight – or who can inspire deeply touching theatre. Marvellous tells the uplifting true story of Neil Baldwin, a man with learning difficulties who became a local hero as the kit man of his beloved Stoke City FC. Director Theresa Hoskins adapted his tale for stage with Baldwin, and assembled a triumphant neurodivergent cast. The show began at the New Vic Theatre in Newcastle and had a London run as the opening production of the West End’s newest venue @sohoplace.

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The Wolves (2018)

Technically this one is “soccer”, as Sarah DeLappe’s Pulitzer Prize-nominated play follows a high-school girls’ team in the American suburbs. During warm-ups, this fast-talking pack discuss everything from tampons to Harry Potter and Abu Ghraib – DeLappe’s cacophonous form reflecting her sharp examination of how adolescents try to define themselves as individuals while still fitting into the group. The Wolves had its successful UK premiere at Theatre Royal Stratford East, directed by Ellen McDougall.

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The Red Lion (2015)

Patrick Marber set his National Theatre play in the dressing room of a small-town, semi-professional football club whose players are working towards a much-desired promotion. A three-hander, tensions arise between the loyal, veteran kit man and the crafty, ambitious manager over the fate of their brilliant young player – who comes from a difficult background, but has devout religious conviction. A whole world is packed into this tight space. Peter Wight, Daniel Mays, and Calvin Demba starred.

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The Pass (2014)

John Donnelly tackled homophobia in football in his perceptive drama, which follows one player over 12 years. We first meet Jason as a prodigious teenager who has feelings for his teammate, then as a star who is married but still faces rumours about his orientation, and finally as a sporting legend but one who has made brutal sacrifices for success, power, and fame. Russell Tovey was extraordinary in the lead role, directed by John Tiffany, in this thought-provoking Royal Court production.

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Jumpers for Goalposts (2013)

Tom Wells also explored football and sexuality in his sweet, funny, progressive comedy, set in the world of a five-a-side gay and lesbian football league. It centres on the underdog Barely Athletic team, featuring vivid characters like their bossy lesbian coach, a gay busker, a troubled token straight man, and the gorgeous budding romance between a student and a librarian. The play premiered at Watford Palace Theatre, toured the UK, and had a well-received run at the Bush Theatre.

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Sing Yer Heart Out For The Lads (2002)

In Roy Williams’s blistering drama, fans have gathered in a south-west London pub to watch England v Germany in the 2000 World Cup. As defeat looms for the home team, communal booze-fuelled singalongs turn into racist warfare, as the violence and xenophobia unfortunately linked to England’s football culture comes to the surface. Williams’s play premiered at the National Theatre, directed by Paul Miller, and was revived, 20 years on, by Nicole Charles at Chichester Festival Theatre in 2022.

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The Beautiful Game (2000)

Might it be time to revisit Andrew Lloyd Webber and Ben Elton’s football musical? The Beautiful Game is set during the Troubles, in 1969 in Belfast, Northern Ireland, and follows a team comprised mainly of Catholic teenagers and coached by a priest. The show ran in the West End for almost a year, its original cast featuring Josie Walker, Hannah Waddingham, Alex Sharpe, David Shannon, and Ben Goddard, and the National Youth Music Theatre performed it in 2018.

Photo credits: Von Fox Promotions, Marc Brenner, Helen Murray, Craig Sugden, Catherine Ashmore, Manuel Harlan, Elyse Marks, Konrad Bartelski

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