Imagine the atmosphere in a football stadium during an important match. Champions League Final or World Cup. Nerves and tension on the playing field. Waiting, tension and electricity in the stands. When a goal flashes, he held his breath and a surge of euphoria if the ball hits the goal. Well, this is exactly what is felt in some moments of the production of the play “Women’s Football Club” by the Italian playwright Stefano Massini directed by Sergio Paris-Mencheta. The epic of sports raised to the square. Everything about this show is designed to push the audience towards that emotion. And it succeeds in several scenes: the audience applauds, whistles and bursts into applause several times. To achieve this from the stage is not easy.
The work reconstructs the birth of women’s football. The action takes place in the United Kingdom during the First World War, which forced the suspension of the men’s professional league. Since most of the men were on the battlefield, the factories were empty and they had to hire women to fill their absence. In these jobs, many of them for the first time freed themselves from their destiny as wives, mothers and housewives, finally feeling the freedom to do what in peacetime would seem unimaginable. For example, to play sports that were previously closed to them.
Massini is inspired by the true story of the most successful team ever born under the circumstances, Dick, Kerr’s Ladies, formed by military factory workers during their lunch breaks. The author takes this as a reference and uses historical data, but invents his own story: he changes the name of the club and introduces the identities of its 11 players who fantasize about what could have motivated them to defy prejudice and hit the ball, in a way that works goes beyond sportsmanship. It frames it and highlights its undeniable political, feminist and libertarian side. Let’s say it’s a Brechtian epic written in the form of a narrative monologue with long free verse and choruses that give it rhythm and musicality. Like a Homeric rhapsody.
The first part epicly stops at the moment when it all began, the first blow, while we get to know the main characters: the trade union Marxist, the bespectacled intellectual, the one who cannot find a husband, the one who dreams of being Juana. de Arco, a rude peasant woman, invisible, whom no one takes into account … It must be said that the author does not describe them in great detail, but repeatedly emphasizes the essential feature of each of them, which will determine their role. on the field. This has a double effect: it helps the viewer to quickly identify the characters, which are too many to meet at once and not get lost, but at the same time it deprives a deeper understanding of their motives and context, and is also redundant and something heavy begins. But already in the second part, we jump into action as soon as the successes of the players begin and their victories are recreated, until in the final third the men return from the front and send them back to their kitchens. The British Federation has banned women’s football as unsuitable for the female body, but the fuse has already been lit.
The text first premiered last year at the Teatro Piccolo in Milan, whose artistic director is Massini, who succeeded the great Luca Ronconi after his death in 2015. This production has remained true to the original form of the monologue performed by Maria Payato, but Paris-Mencheta has turned it into a musical show with 11 wonderful actresses who sing, dance and read the text in chorus. As in his previous and successful staging of Massini’s other work, the Lehman Trilogy, the Spanish director once again demonstrates his great sense of spectacle and unleashes, in frenetic rhythm, an arsenal of stage devices sprinkled with songs (some originals in English and others in Spanish, composed by Litus Ruiz), which do not give the opportunity to get bored. The movement on the stage is continuous, there is a bright stage performance and even moments of interaction with the public. The scenery is spectacular and everything works with remarkable precision.
But the production also lacks a lot of depth in the characters. Not only because of the way the text draws them, but also because they look almost cartoonish. They, and sometimes the text, are dominated by the spectacle: like in those films with the hero-athlete in the title role, where everything seems to lead to a great epic moment. And the public loves it.
Women’s football club
Text: Stefano Massini. Directed by: Sergio Peris-Mencheta. Cast: Noemi Arribas, Xenia Reguant/Silvia Abascal, Ana Rayo, Maria Pascual, Nour Levy, Alicia Gonzalez, Carla Hidalgo, Irene Makeira, Andrea Gouache, Diana Palazon, Belen Gonzalez. Canal theatres. Madrid. Until May 22.
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