ZOO Playground, Edinburgh
August 12, 2019
It’s not very often that publicity truly accurately describes a show, but “a ballsy tribute to the nation’s favourite sport” is precisely what Next Door Dance deliver with The Beautiful Game. With tongues very firmly in cheeks, it’s also affectionate, fun and fabulous entertainment that you don’t need to be a football fan to enjoy. Physical theatre at its best. Oh yes, and there’s some super dance too.
Opening with a dance to the Match of the Day theme (what else?), it all takes place in a living room set complete with half-time oranges and a photo of Gary Lineker on the mantlepiece.
Over the next fifty minutes or so and to an eclectic soundtrack of catchy songs, vox-pop interviews, and iconic moments of commentary, The Beautiful Game captures superbly the highs and lows of football, of playing and supporting. It will have you recalling unforgettable goals, standing on half-empty terraces on freezing winter’s day and much more.
Devised collaboratively and directed by Jennifer Manderson, the quartet of Georgina Saunders, Emily Thurston, Hayley Corah and Laura Savage tell stories about how they got into football, whether through a new girls’ team at school, or being taken along by their father. We hear about what it’s like to support a lower division team (I know all about that) and experience the pain of relegation (I know about that too!), but no matter, Que sera sera, as Doris Day sings. There’s always next season.
There are genuine moments of pathos too, especially in the vox-pops. One amateur player recalls the best goal he have ever scored, seen only by those playing and the proverbial one man and his dog. “That guy walking his dog clapped my goal for ten minutes.”
There’s an attempt to explain the offside rule, a look at the ‘magic sponge’, a preening referee, who really does toss red and yellow cards around like confetti; and a pie, that really does get eaten. Even David Beckham puts in an appearance, albeit via a giant cut out.
Along the way, the performers also manage to squeeze a remarkable amount of dance into the small space; dance that is tightly choreographed and performed.
Where The Beautiful Game really grabs you, though, is the spirit and sense of fun. It’s infectious. Some moments are desperately silly (some might argue that devoting so much time to watching 22 men kick a ball around is just that too) but they are also desperately close to the truth.
The end is fairly predictable, I suppose, but what else could it be? “They think it’s all over. It is now.”
The Beautiful Game is at ZOO Playground to August 26. Visit zoofestival.co.uk for details and tickets.