By guest critic Meredith Jones Russell
Weaving together three centuries and four women’s stories, Offside tackles the ongoing search for equality in women’s football with high energy and verve.
The research that has gone into the play gives it its heart. The stories of Emma Clarke, the first black professional female footballer in 1892, and Lily Parr of Dick Kerr Ladies who fought the FA ban on women’s football in 1921, are told in flashbacks, inspiring contemporary England hopefuls Mickey and Keeley to make history themselves.
The flashbacks are both moving and fascinating, and a couple of dodgy accents notwithstanding, beautifully performed. These are great stories and all the more powerful for how rarely they are told, which keep us on the edge of our dressing room bench seats.
Now on its second UK tour, the play is performed at a variety of football clubs, lending it an extra authenticity.
Squeezed into the tiny dressing room of Queen’s Park Rangers’ home Loftus Road, you can genuinely smell the sweat as the cast of three perform some incredible physical theatre, perfectly choreographed and controlled and seemingly impossibly avoiding assaulting any members of the audience despite the athletic kicks, flicks and training drills. Marième Diouf and Fizz Waller as Mickey and Keeley are utterly convincing as potential national team players, even without an actual ball.
The movement is superbly enhanced by writers Sabrina Mahfouz and Hollie McNish’s poetry, lending these moments a hypnotic effect that simulate the excitement and unpredictability of a football match the space could not otherwise provide.
Jessica Dennis, as a variety of supporting characters, shows spectacular versatility and comic timing, whilst flipping between almost all the accents of the UK seemingly effortlessly.
Offside is at its weakest in its modern sections, when the scenes can descend into bit too much Eastenders-style shouting and the dialogue often loses authenticity. But as a whole, the play, with a hat trick of talented performers and a skilful script, is right on target.
Offside tours football grounds through 24 June.
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