At the National Theatre, Joseph Fiennes will play England manager Gareth Southgate

Joseph Fiennes and Gareth Southgate

In a brand-new play about the stress of penalties at the National Theatre, Joseph Fiennes will portray Gareth Southgate, manager of England's men's football team.

Dear England, according to author James Graham, will highlight the "gentle revolution" Southgate has brought about in the team's culture.

It is motivated by Southgate's development and how he has contributed to shifting ideas of masculinity since his infamous penalty miss for England in 1996.

Graham wants to investigate "the national identity of a football team.".

The award-winning author told BBC News, "I think what has happened to the men's England football team over the past six years has been quietly extraordinary.

Although it has been working quietly in the background, Gareth's gentle revolution is only now beginning to make sense to us. ".

According to Graham, Southgate assumed the position in 2016 when the England team was at its "absolute lowest ebb," during an "existential crisis about why we'd lost our way," and in the wake of the Brexit vote.

With the assistance of psychologist Pippa Grange, the new manager started to "ask big questions about identity" and how his players could shed the weight of the past, particularly given England's dismal track record in penalty shootouts.

The writer explained, "What makes it Shakespearean obviously it goes back to his moment in [Euro] 1996, when he felt all the weight of that history, the pressure, and the expectations on the moment that he missed that penalty.

The English football team's penalty shootout curse is broken by him 22 years later, enabling them to win a World Cup penalty shootout for the first time. ".

England win pen shootout
At the 2018 World Cup, England's players celebrate a real penalty shootout victory.

Graham added that the documentary Dear England, which gets its name from an open letter Southgate wrote to England supporters in 2021, will also discuss some of the "ghosts and demons" of recent history, specifically the racial abuse experienced by England players who missed penalties at Euro 2020.

In June, the play will begin performances at the National's Olivier Theatre.

While the producers haven't yet cast the roles of players like Marcus Rashford and Harry Kane, they have called upon one well-known international name in the form of Hollywood actor Fiennes.

Joseph Fiennes
The Handmaid's Tale was recently adapted for television, and Joseph Fiennes made an appearance.
(Left to right) Ben Affleck, Geoffrey Rush, Gwyneth Paltrow and Joseph Fiennes attending the premiere of Shakespeare In Love in 1998
Shakespeare In Love's 1998 world premiere featured Ben Affleck, Geoffrey Rush, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Joseph Fiennes, from left to right.

The 52-year-old Englishman actor, like Southgate, was nominated for a Bafta for his portrayal of Shakespeare in the Oscar-winning movie Shakespeare in Love. He has also appeared in The Handmaid's Tale.

Graham remarked, "Joseph is one of our best actors, and he hasn't been on stage in a while.

He, I, and the director sort of jokingly said, "Normally, Henry V or King Lear would be your return to the stage instead of Gareth!

But I do believe that the unlikely character of Gareth Southgate gives it that scale, that epic quality, and his journey. I'm hoping that was Joseph's appeal for the role. ".

Other works by Graham include the critically acclaimed Sherwood TV series as well as the Who Wants to be a Millionaire coughing scandal-inspired play Quiz.

For the first time in ten years—since he performed his This House—he will be performing at the National Theatre in Dear England.

The National Theatre in London
London's National Theatre seen from the outside.

He said, "I feel that pressure.". "Putting the national game on stage at the National Theatre is obviously quite presumptuous, so I can understand how the players and Gareth must feel in terms of expectation.

"But it all feels doable with the team we've surrounded ourselves with. ".

Rupert Goold will helm Dear England, which Rufus Norris, artistic director of the National Theatre, called "a captivating examination into the complex psychology of the much-loved beautiful game.".

Even though Graham claimed that he and his production team had their own private discussions, the Football Association declined to comment on the new play.

The performance will take place six months after England was eliminated by France in the World Cup quarterfinals after Kane missed a late penalty. According to Southgate, he will continue leading England until after Euro 2024.

Graham remarked that it's "great to be writing a story that hasn't finished.". "When I was sitting there in the pub watching England exit the last World Cup, it was a multitude of conflicting feelings.

Because I was obviously anticipating the resolution of my story, as I sat there with my friends mourning England's defeat, I was also asking myself, "What does it mean for my story? What does it say about their journey? Is this good? Is this bad?".

"Since none of my friends in the room knew I was working on this play, I imagine they were perplexed as to why I was sitting there quietly, staring into my beer, trying to make sense of it all. ".

The Crucible, directed by Lyndsey Turner, will move this summer to the Gielgud Theatre in the West End, according to the National Theatre.

From 10 June to 11 August, Dear England will be performed at the National Theatre. On March 9, tickets go on sale.

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