theatre review | Read in About 2 minutes
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Published 11 Aug 2017

In the fight for female equality, sport is a significant battleground. Sabrina Mahfouz and Hollie McNish's Offside shines a spotlight on football, intercutting three years spanning more than a century—1892, 1921 and 2017—to explore the struggles and sheer determination of women players in the UK.

In 2017, Mickey (Tanya-Loretta Dee) and Keeley (Jessica Butcher) are about to embark on training for England's women's national football team. As they pursue their dream, they remember—and Dee and Butcher play—their real-life heroes: Emma Clarke, the first black professional player in the 1800s, and Lilly Parr, who had to face the FA's 1920s ban on women using FA pitches after the war.

Offside throws up some illuminating details about an important part of the women's movement, including Parr's open relationship with another woman. There's also a well-handled, dispiriting connection between the infuriated men who invade the pitch to expose the legs of Clarke's team, and the patronising, prying fascination of today's media with Mickey and Keeley's bodies and private lives. Dee and Butcher breathe life and energy into the pair, capturing their defiance and uncertainty, while switching seamlessly to Clarke and Parr.

Caroline Bryant's production sometimes hammers home the inspirational theme a little too hard, while audience-facing monologues cumulatively slow down the pace, leaving the show feeling choppy. But there are moments of real poetry and passion in this tribute to the women who have fought to play the beautiful game.