Directed by Moyo Atteh, this play originally written by Roy Williams was a frighteningly authentic depiction of uninhibited racism and how violence can emerge from seemingly innocent patriotism. Set in a pub during the 2000 England vs. Germany match, the supporters use the English team’s defeat as an excuse to become gradually more and more problematic, alternating spontaneous slurs and blatantly racist speeches. Little by little, a general discomfort sets in which can only be evidence for the cast’s talent. Indeed, not only did they brilliantly interpret the text and mastered the hectic dialogues, but they also brought to life its difficulty, harshness, brutality.
I was amazed at how realistic the whole performance felt, and the trigger warnings that I had taken lightly before coming to the show were, in fact, justified. Without giving away the ending or talking about the plot in details, I have to say that I was shaken on a visceral level, as anyone would, and it is definitely something to be prepared for. That being said, I also felt strangely excited to be that invested in the story, that appalled, because it meant the show was a success.
The set, a pub, was very well done and the stage manager, Katie Scott, did a great job separating the stage into two parts : the actual pub and a bathroom at the front which created a space of intimacy where the characters could confide in each other and occasionally explode in anger, outrage, indignation. This clever separation paired well with technical director Brianna Baptiste’s work on lighting which created a third space, the back of the stage, where different pairings of characters argued around a game of pool about their experience with racial alterity. Lighting one space then another to put the emphasis on one group at a time allowed the coexistence of very different voices, and the ultimate confrontation— proving the impossibility of a peaceful coexistence, the impossibility to tolerate intolerance— was effectively echoed by a stage no longer divided by the lighting design.
As for the actors, they all deserve praise just for being part of a project that must have been challenging on a performance level— such snappy lines and fast dialogues demanded stamina— and on a psychological level. The first character to appear was Gina played by the breathtaking Eleanor Sumner who had the authority of a mother, the strong voice of a diva and the timing of a professional. Her chemistry with Jamal Alli as Mark felt incredibly natural and just like the performance as a whole, their interactions felt organic. Jamal Alli’s charisma was absolutely unmatched and his gentle strength— as well as his leather jacket— made him even more moving and endearing.
I found the group of supporters very irritating, just like I find real-life supporters in bars irritating, which proves yet again the accuracy of their performance. Lawrie especially, played by Roman Khanna was obnoxious, short-tempered and his physicality was impressive. Lee played by Max Malone balanced Khanna’s jumpiness and his performance was closer to Alli’s. His character had a complexity that he interpreted quite subtly. The only thing that bothered me a little was the disparity in terms of volume : because some performers had such strong voices, others were definitely not loud enough and even though I was in the third row, I could hardly hear Katie Scott and Emily Tarbuck, respectfully Elaine and Jackie. Emma Whitehouse as Glen, the young and easily influenced boy who is at the chore of the dramatic plot, was amazing and everything, from the physicality to the actual lines, was effortless. She went from a funny first scene to a chilling last appearance which had me, and the rest of the audience shocked.
In conclusion, this poignant production was a harrowing representation of racism carried by amazingly talented performers whom I can’t wait to see in other plays.