Squad Goals, Dagenham and Rainham FC

Rating: 4 out of 5.

So theatre. God I’ve missed this. And yes, it’s weird to have to be distanced, it’s weird to have to wear a mask, but what at the moment isn’t weird?

Squad goals is a charming celebration of girls becoming women. It takes a group of young women (and one token man) from the Dagenham and Rainham area and bring them together for a game of five-a-side football. The audience get allocated a pink or blue wrist band and that indicated which of the two teams (Dagenham or Rainham) they support.

The first half is dominated by the formation of the teams. Because I was on Team Rainham, my experience followed the show opening pair of neighbours Lexi and Mel. Lexi is football mad and very talented to boot. Mel is too nice for her own good, getting dragged into Lexi’s schemes. The two are rejected by the seemingly snooty Misha, the two form their own team to compete in front of the rumoured scout that will be attending the day’s tournament.

The first half contains most of the more interactive elements of the play. It’s not particularly immersive – more a combination of the best elements of pantomime and promenade theatre. You are taught chants to use and follow the girls around the ground as they gather their squad. As a solo, at that point getting into the chants felt a little odd, a little awkward.

The story at times felt a little thin, some of the characters could have been fleshed out a little more. But all of them were delivered with such charm and such gusto, that they won me over completely. The staging occasionally made it hard to hear the action. If you are a long way from the girls in a particular scene, you can miss quite important information and I dread to think what it would be like if it rained. Also, take a jumper. Even on a sunny day, an outdoor football stadium at night is cold, and unlike normal, there isn’t a packed crowd’s worth of body heat to help.

The sloganeering aspect of the play was well excused by the fact that the kind of feminism a group of working class, sixteen year old Essex girls (sorry Essex Women) would be spouting would definitely owe a lot more to The Spice Girls than Germaine Greer and that authenticity worked for this play where it might have felt facile in the hands of other players.

It is in the second half where the play comes to life and comes into its own. The football tournament is depicted through two long, dance sequences that burst with a ferocious, kinetic energy that absolutely fills the stadium. No longer was I shy about joining in the chants. Now I was roaring every time Rainham scored; booing the Ref when a decision went against my team. I was truly invested in these women (and one man) and their lives and their football. The second half goes by almost in a blur and the ending – not unexpected, but charmingly delivered – had me tearing up.

Squad Goals is a simple tale,  but a well delivered one. It’s young cast is packed with talent. I enjoyed myself mightily – especially during the thrilling second half. They managed to bring elements of jeopardy and to get me invested in them and the characters for whom they mattered.

Squad Goals is on until 10 October 2020 https://www.ticketsignite.com/event/3138/squad-goals

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