“When that whistle blows, I’m alive”. It’s the rush of adrenaline that comes with such ferocious competition. Keeley (Jessica Butcher) and Mickey (Tanya-Loretta Dee) are playing to get in the England squad, opposing team members that eventually join together and learn to work as a pair. They are both spurred on by their football heroes, incredible women who changed the face of the game but who are virtual unknowns outside of their sport. Offside is a set of interweaving narratives that highlights the dedication required to change the game, to achieve the dream.

Caroline Bryant’s script navigates through each story with energy and intrigue, jumping back and forth between the historical and the modern-day footballers. There’s Emma (Dee), the first black woman in football (1881) and there’s Lily (Butcher), a member of the Dick Kerr Ladies who played the first international women’s game (1921). These are powerful, inspirational role models for any aspiring player and it’s apparent that they instil drive in the two main characters. Supported by the magnetic, multiple performances of Daphne Kouma, who switches between hilarious commentators, motivating coaches and pestering journalists in a heartbeat, the two girls are forced to face their inner demons. Greatness demands nothing less than full commitment – no skeletons in the closet.

For the majority of the production, it’s the story of Emma (Dee) that we wait for with baited breath. Dee embodies her stoicism, gentle confidence and exceptional focus with ease; football chants of pride and positivity crescendo through the show with building fervour and energy. Lily (Butcher) on the other hand is full of pluck, wit and guile. She is fighting to keep her dream that the “weedy women” of the First World War have worked hard to build. The soldiers return and misogyny sets back in, women relegated to their positions of home-keeper – not under Lily’s watch, nor under Butcher’s. It’s the glint in Butcher’s eye that gives strength to the character here.

It’s a refreshing change to include details around homosexuality and mental health in Offside without drawing focus to them. Bryant discusses the worry of coming out as a lesbian, or admitting that your family have mental health issues, without making them the centre of the story. Both Mickey (Dee) and Keeley (Butcher) have to come to terms with who they are, but the core of this production is about the game, the women and the pressure of representing your country. It’s a sign of the times that such issues are accepted as part of society and refreshing to have them naturally woven as ancillary stories into the script.

Offside is more than a game of football. It’s a test of perception, skill, striving and pushing and driving to be your best self. It’s also a message of individuality and the breaking apart of stereotype – these women sweat, they smell, they don’t look perfect all the time. But they fight, they compete, they dream of the glory of the game. This show exposes the beauty of the sport without focussing on the hooliganism inherent in the men’s version. It reminds us that there is another way to celebrate athleticism without the need for mindless violence.

 

★★★★☆

Offside plays Pleasance Courtyard, Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2017 until 28 August 2017. For more information or to purchase tickets, click here.