Joseph Fiennes is to play England men’s football manager Gareth Southgate in a new play about the pressure of penalties at the National Theatre.
Writer James Graham said Dear England would highlight the “gentle revolution” in the team’s culture under Southgate.
It is inspired by Southgate’s journey since his infamous penalty miss for England in 1996, and how he has fed into changing notions of masculinity.
Graham hopes to examine “the identity of a football team and the country”.
“I think what has happened to the men’s England football team over the past six years has been quietly extraordinary,” the award-winning writer said in an interview.
“It’s been humming along in the background, but we’re only starting to really understand now Gareth’s gentle revolution.”
Southgate took on the role when the England team was at its “absolute lowest ebb” in 2016 amid an “existential crisis about why we’d lost our way” and against the backdrop of the Brexit vote, Graham said.
The new manager, with the help of psychologist Pippa Grange, began to “ask big questions about identity” and about how his players could free themselves of the burdens of the past, particularly regarding England’s awful record in penalty shoot-outs.
“What makes it Shakespearean obviously it goes back to his moment in [Euro] 1996, when he felt all the weight of that history and the pressure and expectations on the moment that he missed that penalty,” the writer said.
“Cut to 22 years later, he is the one who breaks the penalty curse for the English football team, allowing them to win a World Cup penalty shoot-out for the first time.”
Dear England, which takes its name from an open letter written by Southgate to England fans in 2021, will also touch on some of the “ghosts and demons” of the recent past, Graham added, with reference to the racist abuse suffered by England players who missed penalties at Euro 2020.
The play will open at the National’s Olivier Theatre in June.
While the parts of players like Marcus Rashford and Harry Kane are yet to be cast, the producers have called up one big international name, in the form of Hollywood star Fiennes.