The Guardian

Enter stadium right: Squad Goals, the play staged at a football ground

The Guardian logo The Guardian 17.09.2020 11:29:20 Ella Braidwood

At Dagenham & Redbridge FC, my friend is chosen to take a shot on goal. A masked crowd watches on. She makes good contact with the ball but it's made of sponge and flies into the keeper's capable hands. Anyway, this isn't a proper match. We're partway through Squad Goals, an immersive theatre show about women's football.

The performance follows the fictional lives of a group of women football players in Essex, who put together two five-a-side teams before playing against each other in the stadium. For the first half, the crowd are split into teams: Dagenham Daggers and Rainham Wanderers. I'm placed in the former and we're taken to different parts of the ground for our pre-match huddles. The actors get us jogging on the spot and chanting at the enthusiastic behest of Assassina (Alice Gruden), the squad's Italian transfer.

The second half consists of a slickly choreographed dance routine in front of the floodlit pitch, which is then used for the game. In the true spirit of five-a-side, it is fast-paced, thrilling and sweaty. Performers execute their moves to multicoloured lights and the sounds of Dua Lipa, Lizzo and Beyoncé. Throughout, players Lexi (Ellie Seaton) and Misha (Ashley Runeckles) deliver impassioned speeches on the challenges faced by female footballers today: they are underpaid and, too often, mocked and not taken seriously.

It has been a challenge to get Squad Goals on its feet. Having debuted an early version of the production last year, writer and co-director Michelle Payne had been gearing up to take the show to Park theatre in north London. Then Covid struck. Despite originally writing the play for indoors, Payne rightly assumed that outdoor performances would be the first to get the green light by the government. Her dad is a season ticket holder at Dagenham & Redbridge, so she arranged a meeting with the club's managing director, who agreed to stage the performance.

Payne began "fantasising and dreaming about what it would look like in a stadium". There is a community feel to it all: many of the production team and actors are from the area, including Payne, who was raised in Rainham. "Being from Essex is a kind of badge of honour," she laughs.

At first, it was a struggle to put Squad Goals together in a way that met government requirements. Co-director Mia Jerome jokes: "We've got more PPE than props!" Auditions were videotaped, actors were temperature-checked before rehearsals, and meetings were held on Zoom. The 10 roles are double cast, with four swing performers, should anybody need to self-isolate.

The mask-wearing and social distancing means there are some limitations and an awkwardness to the immersive part. But Squad Goals is a lot of fun. As a footballer myself, at Tower Hamlets WFC, it's uplifting and empowering to see. For actors such as Holly Liburd, who plays Lexi's sister Missy, the show is a welcome break after anxious months of no work. "It's just so nice to get back to something that I actually love doing," she says.

Squad Goals brilliantly explores the injustices still faced by women footballers, while emitting an air of positivity and winning against all odds. Plus, there is witty banter and some classic football training drills. It's momentary solace in grim times.

17. syyskuuta 2020 14:29:20 Categories: The Guardian

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