A Reviews Round-up for James Graham’s new play Dear England, at the National Theatre and now the West End’s Prince Edward Theatre, starring Joseph Fiennes.
Directed by Rupert Goold (Patriots, Tammy Faye), this new play by award-winning writer James Graham (Best of Enemies, Tammy Faye, Sherwood), is about the England men’s football team managed by Gareth Southgate, and promises to be a captivating examination into the complex psychology of the much loved ’beautiful game’.
The play stars Joseph Fiennes (The Handmaid’s Tale, Shakespeare in Love) as England football manager Gareth Southgate.
At the National theatre, Gina McKee (Bodyguard) played Pippa Grange, sports psychologist and Head of People and Team Development at The Football Association from 2017 to 2019. At the Prince Edward Theatre the role is played by Dervla Kirwan (Ballykissangel).
The National Theatre cast also included Sean Gilder as Sam Allardyce, Josh Barrow as Jordan Pickford, Gunnar Cauthery as Gary Lineker, Will Close as Harry Kane, Crystal Condie as Alex Scott, Will Fletcher as Jordan Henderson, Darragh Hand as Marcus Rashford, John Hodgkinson as Greg Clarke, Adam Hugill as Harry Maguire, Albert Magashi as Jadon Sancho, Kel Matsena as Raheem Sterling, Abdul Sessay as Bukayo Saka, Lewis Shepherd as Dele Alli, Paul Thornley as Mike Webster, Tony Turner as Greg Dyke, Ryan Whittle as Eric Dier, plus Nick Barclay, Tashinga Bepete, Will Harrison-Wallace and Miranda Heath.
The full cast at the Prince Edward Theatre is: Joseph Fiennes as Gareth Southgate, Dervla Kirwan as Dr Pippa Grange, Denzel Baidoo as Bukayo Saka, Josh Barrow as Jordan Pickford, Gunnar Cauthery as Gary Lineker, Will Close as Harry Kane, Crystal Condie as Alex Scott, Will Fletcher as Jordan Henderson, Darragh Hand as Marcus Rashford, John Hodgkinson as Greg Clarke, Lloyd Hutchinson as Sam Allardyce, Albert Magashi as Jadon Sancho, Kel Matsena as Raheem Sterling, Lewis Shepherd as Dele Alli, Griffin Stevens as Harry Maguire, Paul Thornley as Mike Webster, Tony Turner as Greg Dyke, Ryan Whittle as Eric Dier. Also Nick Barclay, Tashinga Bepete, Kate Kelly Flood, Will Harrison-Wallace, Miranda Heath, Tom Mahy and Tristan Waterson.
Photos: Dear England
The creative team also includes set design by Es Devlin (The Crucible, The Lehman Trilogy), costume design by Evie Gurney, lighting design by Jon Clark, movement direction by Ellen Kane and Hannes Langolf, sound design by Dan Balfour and Tom Gibbons, video design by Ash J Woodward, casting by Bryony Jarvis-Taylor, dialect coach Richard Ryder, and associate director Elin Schofield.
Read reviews from all of the major theatre critics including the Times, Guardian and Telegraph.
Dear England is booking at the Prince Edward Theatre in London to 13 January 2024.
This article was first published on 21 June 2023 to round-up reviews for Dear England at the National Theatre. It has now been updated to reflect the production’s run at the Prince Edward Theatre in London.
Dear England reviews
"James Graham’s ode to the beautiful game feels even more epic in its new home" (Prince Edward Theatre London)
"The National's smash-hit play gets a seamless West End transfer with the terrific Joseph Fiennes reprising his role as Gareth Southgate"
"Stuffed with outsized characters, smart one-liners and an astute understanding of national myth-making, it channels the story of Southgate and his reboot of the English footballing mentality into a theatrical spectacle as uplifting as any England victory."
"This is not Graham’s best play. It’s too long, its points are sometimes obvious... But ably abetted by Rupert Goold’s fast-moving, extremely touching production, it also powerfully reproduces the agonising psychodrama of the English national team by casting the audience as England fans."
"Joseph Fiennes is just terrific as Southgate, nailing his uneven speech patterns and the way he stands like a coat hanger bent slightly out of shape, his nervy watchfulness and his unswerving faith in decency and kindness."
"This is a rare and special thing – a play that dares to let us feel not so bad about being us."
"A triumphant transfer scores on the West End" (Prince Edward Theatre London)
"The director Rupert Goold, never one to leave his showmanship in the locker room, has rarely married storytelling with spectacle with more of a flourish. Between him and Graham and an ensemble so good it would be invidious to pick out individuals (sorry, lads) they ensure that a huge cast of characters are delineated with wit and clarity."
"Yet what anchors all this bittersweet hoopla, as the team moves from doldrums in 2016 to near-triumph in 2021, is an astonishing performance from Joseph Fiennes as Southgate."
"Will Close’s Harry Kane is exquisitely inarticulate yet demonstrably decent. And there is an unselfish and persuasive supporting turn from the show’s big new signing, Dervla Kirwan replacing Gina McKee as the team psychologist Dr Pippa Grange (whom she lends an Aussie accent for the evening)."
"Joseph Fiennes mesmerises as Gareth Southgate" (National Theatre London)
"State-of-the-nation playwright James Graham brilliantly captures the blokey awkwardness within our wider national story"
"Taking its title from the letter that Southgate addressed to the country, mid-pandemic in 2021, James Graham’s new Olivier stage epic about the man and his methods - starring Joseph Fiennes as the pensive, self-effacing coach - incorporates some negative, unpersuaded views of its subject."
"But Graham, now our premier state-of-the-nation playwright, is plainly persuaded by the substance of Southgate’s mission. He sees the apparent recent renaissance of the beautiful game as a foundational opportunity, contrasting it explicitly with the division, rancour and chaos of our political life since 2016, factoring in satirical cameos of recent PMs."
"It’s all done with tremendous lightness of touch, script-wise, and corresponding theatrical elan from director Rupert Goold and his team - Es Devlin’s design dominating the expanse of the Olivier with two vast halos of light, one aloft, the other on the often revolving floor, conjuring everywhere from Wembley to St George’s Park, Russia, Qatar and even the cosmos."
"Fiennes played the Bard in Shakespeare in Love, and achieves a mesmeric intellectual intensity, hands deep in pockets or delicately gesticulating, that makes Southgate seem almost like Shakespeare’s inheritor, weaving dreams for us all."
"Joseph Fiennes is a phenomenal Gareth Southgate" (National Theatre London)
"Graham offers us the England men’s team as both entirely itself and, by skilful sleight of hand, a representation of English manhood"
"The result is in and it’s a thumping win. Director Rupert Goold and writer James Graham have delivered a rollicking examination of the England football team under manager Gareth Southgate. Graham, that master examiner of specific slices of modern history, applies the same dazzling set of forensic skills he displayed in his masterpiece political drama, This House. How entirely fitting it is that our national game should come under scrutiny at our National Theatre."
"Joseph Fiennes is a phenomenal Southgate, both looking and sounding uncannily like the man himself, but even more crucially conveying his all-important sense of decency and fairness."
"Goold directs with his typical pizzazz, offering a wildly enjoyable and highly kinetic all-action production. When a player is no longer part of Southgate’s plans, they take the long walk down the tunnel – or up the Olivier’s central aisle – to the dressing room."
"James Graham scores again with this thrilling football drama" (National Theatre London)
"The Nottingham playmaker takes on the England football team’s recent highs and lows in a brilliant fusion of sport and art"
"Back of the net? James Graham’s play about Gareth Southgate’s stewardship of the England football team is a brilliant fusion of sport and art, exploring our nation’s character through our national game. And at the National Theatre, to boot. Rupert Goold’s production is pacy and dynamic and Joseph Fiennes uncannily captures Southgate’s distinctive diction and his careful blend of confidence and diffidence."
"At times it’s necessarily schematic: there’s a lot of sporting history, a lot of biography and a lot of hurt packed into the three-hour running time. But this show is witty, clever and at times heart-in-mouth exciting enough to win over even those who don’t care about football."
"There’s not much space for deep characterisation but Will Close and Josh Barrow are very funny as Kane and Pickford, Darragh Hand and Kel Matsena quietly moving as Rashford and Sterling."
"This is a thrilling piece of work, popular and political as Graham always intends his plays to be, and – appropriately – a consummate team effort."
"Touching, funny retelling of Gareth Southgate’s quiet revolution" (National Theatre London)
"It’s a game of two halves, but James Graham’s dramatisation of Southgate rescuing a languishing England team delivers tension and movement"
"James Graham’s story of the beautiful game and the travails of the England squad has some beautiful moments."
"The meat of the play is Southgate’s inspirational leadership of an England squad that’s languishing when he first takes over, and to which he gives new life, leading the team all the way to the semi-finals in the 2018 World Cup and onwards. But as endearing as it is, the production, directed by Rupert Goold, takes time to really lift off the ground, focusing on story rather than drama in the first half – and it does seem like a game of two halves."
"There are not enough dramatic moments in the first half that grip: it is 50 minutes in, when Southgate recalls his terror at taking and missing a penalty in the Euro 96 semi-finals, that we feel we enter into his emotional world. We want and need more of this – and perhaps more conflict and drama between players themselves – rather than the Dead Poets Society-style “seize the moment” lectures."
"Fiennes’s Southgate is slightly geeky, full of earnestness and quiet integrity, and channels more than just an impersonation. But we never really get beneath the skin of Southgate"
"Pitch-perfect Gareth Southgate brings the game home" (National Theatre London)
"He shoots; he scores. James Graham’s fast-moving portrait of Gareth Southgate’s reign as the England football manager is a joyous example of populist theatre. There’s anguish, joy and a surprisingly generous helping of humour."
"Rupert Goold’s production zips along with all the brash energy of a graphic novel."
"Is there a hint of condescension in the way the lads are portrayed in the first half? I felt slightly uncomfortable, for instance, about the way the audience chuckled at Harry Kane’s tongue-tied utterances. Then again, the team captain — beautifully played by Will Close — is just one of the players to grow in stature after the interval, as Southgate’s patient psychological approach begins to bear fruit. Darragh Hand makes an affable Marcus Rashford, too."
"There’s a touch too much politically correct preaching in the final quarter. And I could have done without the political caricatures of May, Boris Johnson and Liz Truss. Graham makes his points about the power of solidarity and compassion eloquently enough through what he shows us of Southgate himself."
"James Graham scores a winner with exhilarating football play" (National Theatre London)
"James Graham’s epic new play"
"This glorious, generous, rollercoaster of a piece grapples, like Southgate, with the role of the national team in the national psyche. It proposes that this fractious, bruised nation can be something better, something kinder, something happier. Rupert Goold’s exhilarating production fills the National Theatre’s huge Olivier space with the buzz and electricity of a major tournament final."
"Joseph Fiennes is perfect as Southgate"
"Like many a football match, however, there are some misses, as Graham packs in Covid, Qatar, taking the knee and online abuse. The kaleidoscopic swirl and scope of the piece mean some key characters become one-note — including the endlessly patient Grange. But the spirit of the show overrides its flaws."
"Joseph Fiennes is uncanny as Gareth Southgate" (National Theatre London)
"Joseph Fiennes gives an extraordinarily uncanny central performance in James Graham’s entertaining character study of England manager Gareth Southgate"
"Graham copes with both these two hospital passes admirably and, rather like Southgate himself, succeeds in creating a slick and consistently enjoyable piece of popular entertainment that stirs the emotions, even if it is not quite a trophy-winner. His writing is tonally broad (perhaps a little too broad at times), and it is given brisk, kinetic direction by Rupert Goold... Plenty is thrown at the production, and most of it sticks."
"As Southgate, Joseph Fiennes gives a bona-fide star turn. With a facsimile beard and some excellent make-up (including impressive dental and nasal tweaks), he perfects the England manager’s diffidence, his voice, his forced smile, his furrowed brow, his pursed lips, his measured hand gestures. It is uncanny – at times, you forget it’s Fiennes standing on stage. Around him, with the exception of Gina McKee as Grange, the other characters are intentionally played in a more caricatured style."
"At the end of the day, Dear England falls short of some of Graham’s greatest works because it never quite nails its wider analogy about what Southgate’s achievements might mean beyond football..."
"James Graham’s new play is a wildly entertaining romp through the reformation of the England men’s team under Joseph Fiennes’ pitch-perfect Gareth Southgate" (National Theatre London)
"... ‘Dear England’ is written by James Graham, a playwright who has made genuinely classic work out of such esoteric subjects as the quiz show ‘Who Wants to be a Millionaire?’, and the Labour whips office during the 1970s. Unlike the England team, his form is so impeccable that you kind of have to trust that whatever he has planned is probably going to work. And with ‘Dear England’, he’s hit the back of the net once again."
"Reuniting Graham with Almeida boss Rupert Goold (following last year’s musical ‘Tammy Faye’ and 2017’s Rupert Murdoch drama ‘Ink’), ‘Dear England’ essentially works because Graham and Southgate are interested in the same thing: why is the England men’s team burdened with such high expectations? And what do those expectations do to the psychology of both the team and the nation?"
"Importantly, it’s an extremely fun show, and essentially up for a laugh, celebrating the foibles of our national sport rather than getting self-important about them. Some of the turns are extremely funny, notably Will Close’s Harry Kane"
"It does have a more serious core, though, which revolves around Southgate bringing in Gina McKee’s wary psychologist Pippa Grange to diagnose the team’s mental malaise. Graham never lays it on too thick, but nonetheless, he gets in some fascinating theories about the interlinking of the national team and the national psyche"
"‘Dear England’ is a big-hearted, technically dazzling celebration of football first and a critique of it second. If it was the other way around I wonder if it might feel a little more like a play for the ages."
"National Theatre’s Southgate play is a solid team effort but no shots on target" (National Theatre London)
"Joseph Fiennes delivers a remarkable performance as the waistcoated England manager, but James Graham’s new play won’t get the world in motion"
"At almost three hours, Dear England is ambitious, but often overloaded by the sheer number of events since 2016."
"While Graham’s intention, to explore what the England team represent in the broader picture of our national identity, is an intriguing one, the play ends up giving us few new insights. Often it feels like a cut-and-paste job, a highlights package of the last few years, without the helter-skelter emotion of the beautiful game itself. The most thrilling moments are the recreations of two penalty shootouts, but they’re still a poor substitute for rewatching the real thing."
"But Fiennes’s portrait of Southgate is remarkable: he captures the gentle head nods, the toothy smile that sometimes feels more like a grimace, the soft, nervy exterior hiding a steely inner resolve. But in Grange, played by Gina McKee, the Ted Lasso-fication of sport looms large."
"A frustrating evening, then – like seeing your team put in a solid defensive performance but fail to get any shots on target. But, of course, we still believe."
"James Graham scores again" (National Theatre London)
"Football is drama, after all. The National Theatre’s big new play about the England football team and its penalty-taking paranoia seizes on the truism that international football is both tragedy and comedy, with shafts of farce."
"James Graham’s latest degutting of British current affairs is given a tremendous staging by Rupert Goold. The show is well cast, ingeniously staged and pulsatingly performed. Joseph Fiennes is an almost AI-grade exactness as Gareth Southgate"
"Goold fields a squad of little-known actors who, within the script’s two-dimensional confines, are pretty convincing as the squad Southgate developed when he became England manager in 2016."
"He crams in a few too many angles. It’s fun to see the National shed its occasional glumness and give us a play about football. The staging, let one repeat, is thrilling. But this is more Spitting Image than Chariots of Fire."
"Joseph Fiennes scores as Gareth Southgate in a rousing football drama" (National Theatre London)
"... Dear England is by James Graham, who over the last decade has altered what we expect from the theatre – not least on the stage of the National – and the expectation is justified. Once again the playwright shows his particular gift, for writing a popular play with a resonant social theme. He is mightily helped by director Rupert Goold – who moves from production to production like a theatrical oxygen cylinder – and by a tremendous performance, one of the best of the year so far, from Joseph Fiennes. Oh, and did I say it is about football?"
"Graham and Goold won me over. By rousing the blood and raising the stakes. And by making counsel and advice look less wafty, more practical: by showing change being embodied – as the stage is able uniquely to do."
"Fiennes is utterly convincing. He begins fidgety – arms as busy as a footballer’s feet as he amplifies his phrases with gestures, his hands keeping people and difficulties at bay; he often looks as if he wants to brush cobwebs from his face. The more he pleads for collaboration, the more individual he becomes."