Given its centrality to the cultural life of this country, it is surprising that there are not more plays about football. ENG-ER-LAND, written and performed by Hannah Kumari, which has just started a 15 venue UK tour in the Edward Allen theatre at Dulwich College in South London, goes some way to remedying that deficiency. The tour is supported by the Football Supporters Association in order to promote inclusivity and combat racism and sexism in the game.
It is very much a personal take on football based upon Kumari’s experience of growing up as a female, mixed race, football fan. Many of its themes will undoubtedly resonate with a wider audience since the play is more about the difficulty of forming an identity for those of mixed race then it is specifically about football. Kumari tells touchingly and tellingly about how she felt neither completely at home in her Pakistani family nor in the dominant culture of the UK, even though she is born and brought up in the UK, speaks English impeccably, and is not noticeably “a person of colour”. Her observation that donning the team strip provided a common identity was telling and I wondered how many football supporters, of any background, would relate to it.
The play is a one-woman piece with no scenery or set furniture. Kumari appears in the blue-and-white strip of her beloved Coventry and directly addresses the audience explaining to them her journey to the love of football and inviting them to come with her, when she is let down by her school friends, to see a match. Her performance was a tour de force, flawlessly delivered in the gushing style of teenager, maintaining interest throughout and building effectively to a tense conclusion, as her visit to the stadium does not go as planned.
This is the 1990s, when mobile music was provided by a Walkman, the Internet was in its infancy and mobile phones were not yet ubiquitous. Kumari introduced us to her friends and family, occasionally she mimicked their voices, but mostly they were effectively conjured through her descriptions and interaction with them. Lighting changes indicated stages in the narrative and sound effects depicted crowds, vehicle noises, etc. Some of the latter in the Edward Allen theatre were rather too loud and at times made Kumari difficult to hear.
As someone who is not a football fan, I was hoping that the play might throw more light on the vice-like grip in which the devoted football supporter is held for a team often chosen, it seems, at random, but that will have to wait for another play. Meanwhile ENG -ER- LAND is well worth a viewing. https://www.wolab.co.uk/eng-er-land
Reviewer: Paul Ackroyd
Reviewed: 9th February 2022
North West End UK Rating: ★★★★