ENG-ER-LAND, Dulwich College

photo: Ali Wright

By Romy Foster

She shoots, she scores with this one. Waiting for her friends to arrive so they can watch Coventry FC live, we join teenager Lizzie as she takes us on a nostalgic stroll down memory lane to the mid-90s. The show is packed with classic tracks and brand references from the era you may have tried to erase from your memory whilst reminiscing about all the bad outfit choices we made as teens. It’s also full of committed dance moves, chants and audience participation.

Writer and performer Hannah Kumari shows she’s got real balls as she lets us see through the lens of a 14-year-old girl of mixed heritage, who is struggling to find herself and her place within society, through her experience of a big football match. Whilst it starts relatively slowly, by the end the audience are left sitting with the questions about why isn’t everyone welcome within the footie community and what can be done to help.

In their recent findings, Kick It Out (football’s equality and inclusion organisation) said, ‘Looking at the football season between January 2019 – December 2019, 30% said they’d witnessed racist comments or chants at a football match and a staggering 71% of those questioned also said they had witnessed racist comments on social media directed at a footballer. A further 51% of fans had also witnessed racism directed at a fan of a different team to theirs on social media.’

Kumari as Lizzie is upbeat, engaging and exciting to watch as she bounces around stage and invites us to be her new friends. As an audience we feel really safe in her company, but it is devastating to helplessly watch her go through such racist and dehumanising experiences. At such a crucial, personality-shaping age, I just want to hug her and tell her things will get better, and that she will eventually find herself. She doesn’t need to imagine having bright blonde hair and paler skin every day, she is beautiful and she is not her experiences. She is so much more.

For an hour, we see true growth and she starts to accept who she is after a tragic incident that forces her to see through fresh eyes. Gone is the girl wanting to be like her skinny, blonde best friend. Here is Lizzie, half Indian, half Scottish, born in England but widening her friendship circle and knowledge of the Punjabi language. She is proud.

This show would be particularly beneficial to young British teens willing to learn something about racism, toxic football fan culture, how they can potentially address difficult situations, and learn about finding themselves all whilst being able to chant and dance along with Lizzie.

ENG-ER-LAND tours through 2nd April, in multiple venues across the UK.

The Play’s the Thing UK is committed to covering fringe and progressive theatre in London and beyond. It is run entirely voluntarily and needs regular support to ensure its survival. For more information and to help The Play’s the Thing UK provide coverage of the theatre that needs reviews the most, visit its patreon.

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