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‘Eng-er-land’ – one woman football play has kick and verve… (play review)

‘Eng-er-land’ – one woman football play has kick and verve… (play review)

For many boys, it’s a rite of passage but with girls, following a fotball team is not as welcoming as it might be…

LIVELY and engaging, Hannah Kumari’s ‘Eng-er-land’ – currently on a regional tour – is a veritable personal journey encompassing a love affair that begins as a teenager.

Taking on the persona of ‘Lizzie’, a 13-year-old girl, in this 65-minute or so solo show, the play charts her love of the game of football, and her enchantment with Coventry City, her local team.

Hannah Kumari in ‘Eng-er-land‘ Pic: Ali Wright

It begins in the 1997 and a particular match against Manchester City (not as now, replete with superstars and oil money) and along the way she also gets into following the national team and hence the title of the show – with the familiar terrace chant of “Eng-er-land”, “Eng-er-land”.

Even for the non-football fan, there is a lot here and Kumari’s young Lizzie is likeable, if a little naïve and too trusting.

Bi-racial and full of teenage angst, Lizzie finds a certain strength and confidence in following her local team.

You don’t need to know about football to enjoy all this – what is impressive is the way Kumari tackles big subjects: identity, racism, politics, lad culture and masculinity.

She does so with a lightness of touch and a fresh take on what it means to be a young girl who is passionate about the beautiful game.

And yet there are obstacles and hurdles she has to contend with, and all kinds of challenges that many of her white peers wouldn’t think two hoots about – and therein lies the power of ‘Eng-er-land’.

While being funny, and cute in the right places – football sparks her first romance too with a cool boy – she doesn’t shy away from the ugly things that continue to belie our most popular national sport.

Hannah Kumari wearing Coventry City shirt in ‘Eng-er-land‘ Pic: Ali Wright

The drama starts with that first game – going to the match and being accompanied by her female friends. Let’s say it doesn’t exactly go to plan and this device forms the bedrock of the style of show – as we, the audience, is enlisted to accompany her.

It’s great to see a girl like Kumari (in the show and beyond) express herself through football – for far too long it’s been the preserve of a particular type of fan – often male, white, young to middle-aged, and perhaps conservative and set in their ways (at least that is the common media portrayal).

Kumari’s show helps to dispel these outdated notions and show too that the game itself is changing and being changed by fans like Lizzie.

While for the most part, this is an absorbing and stimulating production that many family audiences would warm to – the last part is somewhat more challenging and some might say – even upsetting.

It’s meant to be – and therein lies Kumari’s deeper purpose, perhaps to explore notions of identity, power and how some people think about the game – they feel belongs to them and remain indifferent at best – hostile at worst – to new and different groups of fans.

There also layers of class, identity and masculinity that all have their impact.

You might quibble a little about the title – supporting England is perhaps more complicated in these days of multiple identities.

Directed by Rikki Beadle-Blair MBE, with dramaturgy by Milli Bhatia, this is well worth catching, football fan or not – and even if you aren’t too keen on Coventry City… as a supporter of any other team.

Joking aside, Kumari’s delivery and her ability to hold the stage show rich potential in a performer who it would appear from this, is just getting started…Bravo!

ACV rating: *** ½ (out of five)
(Sailesh Ram)

From (February 16) to April 2
National tour – booking:
February 26 Slung Low’s The Holbeck (Leeds)
March 3–4 Base Camp (Middlesbrough)
March 5-6 Laurel’s Theatre (Whitley Bay)
March 10-11 National Football Museum (Manchester)
March 12 Pound Arts (Corsham)
March 14-15 Frome Town FC
March 18 Barbican Plymouth
March 19 Lighthouse Poole
March 22–23 The Wardrobe, Bristol
March 25 Penselwood Village Hall (Wincanton)
March 26 Exeter Phoenix
April 1 Trowbridge Town Hall
April 2 Wellington Arts (Taunton)

Supported by the Arts Council, Football Supporters Association (Fans for Diversity) and WoLab (an artists creative hub/network) saw ‘Eng-er-land’ at its press night in London at Dulwich College on February 16.


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Written by Asian Culture Vulture