The message of Squad Goals is simple: ‘‘Girls from round here can do whatever they like when they put their minds to it”. Thus speaks Missy (Jasmine Davis) to her little sister Lexi (Ellie Seaton), encouraging her to follow her dream – whether that be playing football, studying law or training to be a beautician. Squad Goals is an uproarious celebration of sisterhood and open-mindedness. By the end, the cast, crew and audience are left beaming from ear to ear and dancing on their seats.
Football and drama are both industries in deep trouble at the moment, with neither able to draw in the crowds needed to make money. The time thus seems apt for a play performed in and around a football stadium, that manages to exhibit the absolute best of both activities. The plot revolves around a group of young women about to pursue the ‘realistic careers’ their parents always wanted for them. They all now have the chance to play one big last game of football at an annual community tournament, where a scout for Dagenham and Redbridge football club is rumoured to be in the audience. The players are a real motley crew. With everyone from the hyper-ambitious to the influencer, only there for the Instagram likes, they all come together to perform and play for the love of the game, and a desire to counteract the snarky comments or sexist microaggressions they have experienced their whole life.
The Guardian reported that it had been a real struggle to produce this world premier of Squad Goals amidst the global pandemic. Writer and co-director Michelle Payne had been preparing to take the play to the Park Theatre in North London, but thank goodness that didn’t work out! Produced by Caspa Productions, the play has found its perfect home in Dagenham and Redbridge’s Chigwell Construction Stadium. Press releases before the production described the cast and crew as largely originating from the local Essex area. It certainly seems as such, with each cast member belting their lines across the flood-lit darkness, filling the stadium within noise with their thick Essex twangs.
Though the dialogue is rich in local colour and focuses on many touch-points that represent what it is to be a woman in twenty-first century Britain, there is not necessarily a huge amount of plot to speak of. But this doesn’t matter – it is an experience rather than a narrative, as we are led along in a whirl of energy by cast members screaming an endless array of instructions to chant for your team! Put your face mask on! Or keep one metre apart!. Enthusiasm is needed by the bucket-load to keep proceedings going – and thankfully the cast are by no means in short supply.
But for me, what moved Squad Goals from the realm of the brilliant to that of the exceptional was the dialogue-less second half – a perhaps unexpected turn of events for an English Literature graduate. This is when the 5-aside football tournament itself takes place, represented as a thrillingly choreographed street dance sequence. It is performed to a stream of multicoloured lights, to the vibrant sounds of Dua Lipa, Taylor Swift, Lizzo and Beyoncé. With a couple of drinks down you from the interval, you cannot help but join in a celebration that through sheer jubilation breaks down all stereotypes, no matter what they may be based on.
Squad Goals plays at Dagenham and Redbridge Football Club until 10 October 2020. For more information and tickets, see the Tickets Ignite website.