Writer: Hannah Kumari
Director: Rikki Beadle-Blair
While Andrew Lloyd Webber prepares himself for sacrifice, smaller theatres are coping remarkably well in spite of social distancing measures. Take, for instance, The Jermyn Street Theatre, which is currently presenting its ambitious Footprints Festival, comprising 43 shows and which finishes at the end of August. Shows can be livestreamed too. Its newest play about football is perfectly timed.
Set in 1997, a year after England reached the semi-final of Euro 96, Hannah Kumari’s 45-minute show is a snapshot of a female football fan. Kumari plays Lizzie, a teenager from Rugby, who’s a staunch Coventry City Fan. Over the last year she’s tried to see as many games as she can. But she’s not quite sure whether she belongs in the home stands, not because she is female but because she is half Indian.
Indeed, she’s not quite certain about her identity. Her mother is Indian, while her father says he is Scottish. She wants to believe that she is English, although her father insists that she support Scotland when the national team meet England in the Euro heats, a match to be repeated this very Friday. Football for Lizzie is a way of belonging, but with few black or brown faces on the field or amongst the fans she’s not sure if she belongs enough.
Like football players who continually pass the ball to each other rather than striking out alone, Kumari’s play does take some time to get going and the story often takes backseat in a show that is more of a character study than a forward moving narrative. It’s a relief when the bus arrives and we are finally on our way to see a match.
Lizzie is resolutely chipper, easily amazed and young, and while that makes for some sweet-natured comedy, it does mean that Kumari’s performance lacks variation when every line is delivered with naive enthusiasm. Still, she is a joy to watch and although it’s not entirely clear what Gina G’s Ooh Aah…Just a Little Bit has to do with football, Lizzie’s dance routine of the Eurovision classic is the highlight of the show.
Rikki Beadle-Blair directs with speed, and with Kumari talking directly to audience members ENG-ER-LAND feels very intimate in Jermyn Street’s tiny auditorium. However, the story is not quite strong enough for this show to be a winning match; more like a hard-fought draw.
Runs until 24 June 2021