Finding empathy before condemnation
This is not a play that champions England players ‘taking the knee’ at the recent European Cup Championships. Nor is it a straightforward condemnation of those who booed them doing so. Instead it is a far more subtle and nuanced work than that. So while you can absolutely tell where its heart lies, it does so in a spirit of compassion for one person at least who booed from the crowd.
Meet the unfortunately named Kerry (Kieran Dee). Estranged from his family for reasons hinted at but never fully explored, Kerry has found a family among the supporters of Chelsea Football Club. His description of missing “the smell of people in coats” was one of the most perfect summaries of what we were lacking during the pandemic’s enforced loneliness and lack of crowds and won my heart over early.
Kerry is shy, but he doesn’t look it. He looks like a football hooligan – with a shaved head and an England shirt. He flirts with his colleague Lisa and is teased by local launderette owner Mandy, but his existence other than this is largely solitary, until a tragedy brings him back in contact with his brother Luke and the stepmother and half-brother he has never known.
This is a family story cunningly framed around football. It is a story of wanting to fit in and wanting to speak out and managing neither particularly well. Because we’re all human, no matter how confident or otherwise we can all relate to Kerry’s frustration at how often he wanted to say the clever thing, the witty thing, the important thing, the right thing, but failed in the moment. Ironically, it is Dee’s confidence in his work that sells us on Kerry and his diffidence. His portrayal is kind rather than sentimental. He understands Kerry and he asks us to try to. Importantly, we are not asked to forgive (and importantly, Kerry goes unforgiven by one key character) but to consider him forgivable.
A TIFO in football is what happens when a group of fans come together to create a choregraphed display – usually of a flag or banner (and as a football ignoramus, I learned something researching this review!). Here it stands for the pressure of the crowd. The need to not just fit in, but display that fitting in and the sense of the moment when you lose your misgivings – however right they were. It is also about the sense of destruction when you find them again, and see what the crowd has taken from you, not just what it has given.
- Written by: Kieran Dee
- Directed by: Grace Millie
- Performers: Kieran Dee
- The Lion and Unicorn Theatre
- Until: 5th February 2022
- Start time: 7.30PM
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