It seems as if England is once again being swept by a wave of Girl Power fever at the moment... And No, we're not referring to the Spice Girls' Viva Forever! We're talking about Womens' football! The sport is finally getting the recognition, respect and media attention it deserves, as the England team (aka 'The Lionesses') roars on over the pond at the World Cup in Canada. In fact, if they defeat Japan today, they will head to the final this Sunday to take on the USA, marking the biggest match in England womens' footballing history!
But football madness isn't merely contained within the borders of Canada this Summer. Oh no! It has even infiltrated London's own West End! We recently attended two fantastic productions, both revolving around soccer themes and both completely different from each other.
The first, of course, was the highly-anticipated musical adaptation of the 2002 hit film Bend It Like Beckham at the Phoenix Theatre. Gurinder Chadha adapted and directed her own film for the stage, with the addition of music and lyrics by Howard Goodall and Charles Hart, and you can really sense how much of a passion project this is for her. The musical opened on 24 June 2015 to rave reviews. Critic Mark Shenton even commented that "the show is full of love and emotion, and I'm more than a little bit in love with it, too."
There are some clever pieces of choreography in the show, which turns football into a real, theatrical experience for the audience. There are the more naturalistic training set-pieces featuring Jess & Jules' team - The Hounslow Harriers - and there are also highly stylised pieces that take place in Jess' imagination, including a fantasy kick-about with her idol, David Beckham himself! The ladies in the cast even trained with Tottenham Hotspurs' womens team in preparation for their roles, indicating a true degree of professionalism and perfectionism.
Football may be a motif in the musical used as a metaphor for a young girl wanting to break free from her cultural traditions and restrictions, but it also offers the perfect opportunity to explore team spirit and female friendship on stage. It is a crowd-pleaser on so many levels.
At the other end of the spectrum, I also recently attended a performance of Patrick Marber's new play The Red Lion at the National's Dorfman Theatre. Directed by Ian Rickson, the drama unfolds entirely in the changing room of a semi-professional, non-league team and highlights the backstage politics of the game and the darker side of England's most popular sport.
There are three excellent performances from Daniel Mays, Peter Wight, and Calvin Demba, who are all lonely and damaged (mentally or physically) individuals. Two of them are trying to get ahead by any means necessary and one is clinging on to past glories as the only thing worth living for.
I'm sure the media only exposes a fraction of the scandal that occurs within professional football these days. Anything with that amount of money flying around is bound to create a great deal of questionable behaviour. The Red Lion paints an intriguing and thought-provoking portrait of this through the simpler setting of a non-league team.
Whatever your taste in theatre, I would heartily recommend both Bend It Like Beckham and The Red Lion to you this Summer. Football's coming home... Well, coming to the West End at least!