Writer: Sabrina Mahfouz and Hollie McNish
Director: Caroline Bryant
Reviewer: Deborah Klayman
Historically described as “unsuitable”, and more recently as making the FA “uncomfortable”, women’s football continues to provoke a surprising amount of consternation. In this new play about women’s contribution to and experience of the beautiful game, Sabrina Mahfouz and Hollie McNish have cleverly interwoven the modern challenges facing female footballers with those of their inspirational predecessors, with stylish direction from Caroline Bryant and committed performances from the three-strong cast.
Centring around England hopefuls Mickey (Tanya-Loretta Dee) and Keeley (Jessica Butcher), Offside places the characters in the historical context of the game, while simultaneously highlighting the attitudes and impact of both the media and the Football Association. With both actresses also portraying their characters’ footballing heroines – Carrie Boustead and Lily Parr – the painful realisation that we have not come as far as it seems pervades the piece, provoking some righteous anger and moving moments.
The play is well-paced and cleverly staged, complemented by Beth Oppenheim’s functional stage design and a range of video projections. Dee is particularly compelling as Mickey, with boundless energy and naturalism that makes the character bright, believable and bold. Double-cast as Carrie, Dee struggles with the accent, but still manages to breathe life into a vitally important character who has been largely erased from history. Butcher strikes a lovely balance between the sensitive Keeley and the defiant Lily, with both characters rounded and credible. Throughout, Daphne Kouma displays wonderfully versatility in her multitude of roles, switching effortlessly between characters with different accents, genders and energies.
Offside is not just a play about football – it is a play about real women who have dared to choose a career that does not fit the stereotypes. McNish, who has described the women’s game as an “amazing little microcosm of the history of women’s rights”, has her poetry seamlessly interwoven with Mahfouz’s text, together creating a piece that examines the wider context of that struggle, and hints at the chance of a brighter future.
Runs until 28 March 2017, then touring | Image: Lidia Crisafulli