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Reviews Bristol Published 13 April 2017

Review: Offside at the Wardrobe Theatre, Bristol

Wardrobe Theatre ⋄ 7 - 8 April 2017

Making Steph Houghton proud: Naia Headland-Vanni reviews Sabrina Mahfouz and Hollie McNish’s play about female footballers.

Naia Headland-Vanni
Offside at the Wardrobe Theatre, Bristol.

Offside at the Wardrobe Theatre, Bristol.

Offside tells the story of two professional football players, Mickey and Keeley. The women were once bitter rivals but are now united in their dream to play for the England team. Both live and breathe the sport, and have committed everything to become the best in their game. With lyrical prose and poetic rigour, Sabrina Mahfouz and Hollie McNish bring the audience into Mickey and Keeley’s world of challenges, technique and resilience, placing us at the forefront of the action.

Beautifully interwoven into the narrative are the stories of their footballing icons, Carrie Boustead and Lily Parr, who played professionally in the centuries before them.  Tanya-Loretta Dee (Mikey and Carrie) and Jessica Butcher (Keeley and Lily) transition seamlessly from their present characters into their idols, highlighting how the commitment and determination the modern women bring to the sport is nothing new. Yet coupled with this drive and ambition is a softer edge. Dee and Butcher also unveil the sensitivities of the women’s relationship and their deep fears of failure.

Mahfouz and McNish’s well-structured, poetic and punchy text captures the depth and complexity of its characters. The writers’ decision to use actual historical figures creates a strong connection between the fictional characters onstage and the bigger ideas that underscore the play.

Lily Parr played in the 1920s, scoring over 1000 career goals, whilst Carrie Boustead is the first recorded black female footballer. Very little documentation of Boustead and her breakthrough exists. In an interview with the Guardian, Mahfouz states, “The fact that there’s so little to be found about it is part and parcel of the lack of documentation over the years to do with anything outside of the white, male experience. You’d never get that for male footballers.” Offside therefore deliberately brings to light the stories of these remarkable women, and how they motivate female players right up to the present day.

Director Caroline Bryant was inspired to work on Offside by her daughter’s involvement with the game and the inequalities she faced. She has put this experience to good use, creating a multi-dimensional and intuitive production which depicts the women with intimacy and compassion.

As a range of commentators and journalists, Daphne Kouma voices the routinely posed questions that continue to challenge professional sports players – particularly female ones. The character functions as the gateway to the external world, the one these women must face-up to daily. Contrastingly, Beth Oppenheim’s set design has the opposite effect, providing a window into the behind-the-scenes environment spectators of the sport rarely see. Placing the characters in the infamous locker room cleverly encapsulates a key point that Offside is trying to make: these are women operating in what we still view as the most male of environments.

Offside is touring until 29th April 2017. Click here for more details. 

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Naia Headland-Vanni is a contributor to Exeunt Magazine

Review: Offside at the Wardrobe Theatre, Bristol Show Info


Directed by Caroline Bryant

Written by Sabrina Mahfouz and Hollie McNish

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