James Graham's smash-hit play Dear England scores all the goals

National Theatre's Dear England transfers to Prince Edward Theatre & wins hearts again

Anya Ryan, 8th November 2023

Is there anything that brings the nation together more than a good football game? Well, perhaps a good football game played out on stage might just do it. James Graham’s smash-hit play about Gareth Southgate has hit the West End - and somehow, it looks even greater here than it did during its kick-off run at the National Theatre earlier this year. 

Leading us through the highs and lows of Southgate’s time with the England football team, there are a lot of facts and figures. Beginning with the tragic moment when young Gareth missed the penalty against Germany in the Euros of 96, the play then moves forward 20 years to show him becoming England's manager. But this disappointment and desperate desire to prove himself hangs over the older Southgate like a dark, overbearing cloud. This is his second shot at victory, and you bet he won’t be missing it twice.

And as our hero, Joseph Fiennes is almost a carbon copy of the Southgate we’ve seen oh so many times onscreen. Suit-wearing, calm-talking and wholly focused on the big win, he steers his team from one big tournament to the next. Expectation weighs heavy on his shoulders. And with all the heat of a classic football match, the play is set up to get your heart racing. There’s a digital background that projects scores and graphics. As the boys band back to the changing rooms, you can hear the memory of the crowd’s roar. 

Under the pacy direction of Rupert Goold, the actors playing the England team lads have been trained impeccably. On the pitch, it is all focus, but it is behind closed doors they really come alive. Cue the roars, in-jokes and good old-fashioned team spirit. This is a true group effort - even picking out one star feels wicked. 

Yes - it should be 90 minutes (honestly, they missed a trick). But, if you want a show to take your Dad to, this might be it. Graham’s play rattles through some of football’s greatest moments. There are slo-mo celebrations, laugh-out-loud cameos from the likes of Theresa May and Boris Johnson, and memories of games gone by. “One of my main goals…is to get people smiling again,” Southgate announces. But in ‘Dear England’ his presence certainly does it. It shoots and scores.