Written by acclaimed poet Hollie McNish and multiple award-winning playwright Sabrina Mahfouz, Offside is a theatre/spoken word hybrid exploring women’s football. The story revolves around two characters—Mickey Adolay and Keeley Finneagan—as they fight for a place on the England football team.
Before the show, I was intrigued as to how the physicality of football might be staged. As it turns out, someone with more interest in actual football might be disappointed, as the piece rather sparingly explores playing in practice, putting a lot more weight on its representation through poetic dialogue. The characters are mostly natural and convincing, with moments peppered through where I become aware of a poem being performed at me. Sometimes jarring, and at other times well-executed, the genre of ‘spoken word theatre’ is an interesting one which throws up the novel challenges of shifting between these styles.
I found myself being more interested in the story of Keeley and Mikey’s heroines Carrie Bousted and Lily Parr—historically important female footballers, known respectively for being the first black professional female footballer, and for being involved in the Dick Kerr Ladies who persisted to play through FA ban’s of female footballers.
Pulsing with energy and vitality, a sequence of vignettes takes a look at these women’s careers, before we are coasted back to 2017, where Keeley and Mikey are rivals for lucrative spots on the English team. Throughout these flashbacks and moments of character-swapping played by the women’s coach, there are a host of accents which, although unconvincing at times, were still impressive coming from one performer in quick-fire succession.
About halfway through the piece, this present day narrative develops into something much more relatable, allowing the characters’ vulnerabilities to shine through as their relationship takes on a complicated layer. This was, unfortunately, in spite of the constant anthem-making. Chants and moments of montage occur throughout, leading me to repeated believe the performance was finished, as they felt like moments of finality. It could’ve ended a few times, having found a ‘right point’ to do so more than once, leaving me unsure what the ending was trying to do.
This play isn’t obviously really about football. It’s about the relentless women who chose to be something different to what society dictated. Throughout the play, issues of gender, race and sexuality are explored, which I found connected well to football, as it aptly exposed the absurdity of racism, sexism and homophobia. It doesn’t change how you play a game, so what does it matter? What does it matter at all, in fact?
Offside was an interesting play that led me to want to know more about the first women’s footballers. A comfortable and well-performed watch, this piece can be enjoyed by non-footy fans of all ages.
Hollie McNish launches a tour of her new book ‘Plum’ in June and Sabrina Mahfouz can be caught at WoW Fest 2017 in Liverpool for a ‘Rebel Women’ event.