Eleanor Roosevelt once said, "the future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams." Offside, a Futures Theatre production currently touring the UK, seeks to convey this belief to its audience. The dream here is one of gender equality, explored and fought for through a three woman play using the fitting metaphor of women’s football.
Offside is an entertaining education with an inspirational script
The timing for a production about women’s relationship with the beautiful game is perfect. Both women’s rights and football are uppermost in our minds what with the Lionesses having just gone to the top of their World Cup qualifying group, the (men’s!) World Cup kicking off in Russia, and a century of women’s suffrage recently celebrated nationwide. The venue of Offside’s Sussex performances is perfect too as, although it was a Theatre Royal event, Futures Theatre have chosen to stage this production in the changing rooms of Lewes Football Club, a club which, in 2017, became the first in the country to pay its women’s team the same as its men’s. Using a changing room as a stage clearly makes for a modest audience, but in exchange it provides an intense and intimate viewing experience. As we take our seats on the hard, wooden benches around the perimeter of this tiny room, my hopes are high for a seventy-five-minute theatrical treat; I am not disappointed.
Jessica Dennis, Marième Diouf and Fizz Waller quietly file into the room and take their static positions. This silence is immediately and dramatically broken as we are thrown in to a verbal and physical high-octane show with Diouf and Waller metamorphosing into four female footballers, past and present; Dennis transforms into at least six different characters ranging from crowd members to coaches. These actors are a trinity tour de force, adeptly transferring the passion and fight of the feminist movement into the women’s fight for the right to play football (told through the stories of Emma Clarke and Lily Parr) and the women’s fight to be judged, as men are, by their abilities and not by their life choices (told through the stories of Mickey and Keeley).
This fast-paced script is delivered through a variety of medium: poetry, prose and music. Weedy Women Washing was a particular favourite, being a satirical verse on the endless list of tasks befalling the traditional female role that, in reality, demonstrate women’s mental and physical strength. Humour is also used effectively in the stereotyping of reporters’ questions and the literal exposure of male bullies by Clarke. Poignant and tender moments – both Mickey and Keeley have secrets – are touchingly played out by the two actors and add a variety of pace. Props are minimal, but innovative: shirts are magically transformed into swaddling babes in arms and video footage is used throughout to support the link between the suffragette movement and the history of women’s football.
The acting is sublime. Diouf and Waller are slick in their portrayals as Mickey/Emma and Keeley/Lily. Physical and vocal changes in their characters are professional and seamless. Waller adroitly displays the differences between the spirited Parr and the fragile Keeley. Diouf, too, is faultless in her presentations of Clarke and Mickey. Her acting is compelling and indeed brought a tear to my eye, at times, with the defiant and unrelenting vibrancy of her performance – sparks fly when she takes centre stage. Jessica Dennis is highly talented, too, smoothly juggling a myriad of roles with impressive versatility.
Offside is an entertaining education with an inspirational script (written by Sabrina Mahfouz and Hollie McNish) and a dynamic delivery. It’s passionate and punchy and brilliantly performed with a clear essential message: the importance of the continual fight for equal rights. An enjoyable and vital watch for anyone who cares about equality. Bravo Futures Theatre, you’ve done Mrs Pankhurst proud.