In a brand-new play about the stress of penalties at the National Theatre, Joseph Fiennes will portray England men's football manager Gareth Southgate.
Dear England will highlight the "gentle revolution" in the team's culture under Southgate, according to author James Graham.
It draws inspiration from Southgate's journey since his infamous penalty miss for England in 1996 and the ways in which he has contributed to shifting ideas about masculinity.
Graham wants to investigate "the identity of a football team and a nation.".
According to the award-winning author, what has happened to the men's England football team over the past six years has been "quietly extraordinary.".
We are just now beginning to fully comprehend Gareth's gentle revolution, but it has been humming along in the background. ".
With the England team experiencing its "absolute lowest ebb," an "existential crisis about why we'd lost our way," and the Brexit vote in the background, Southgate assumed the position in 2016, Graham said.
With Pippa Grange's assistance, the new manager started to "ask big questions about identity" and how his players could shed the weight of the past, especially in light of England's dismal track record in penalty shootouts.
"What makes it Shakespearean obviously it goes back to his moment in [Euro] 1996, where he felt all the weight of that history and the pressure and expectations on the moment that he missed that penalty," the author said.
"Skip ahead 22 years, and he is the one who breaks the English football team's penalty curse, enabling them to win a World Cup penalty shoot-out for the first time. ".
According to Graham, Dear England will also discuss some of the "ghosts and demons" of the recent past, making reference to the racial abuse experienced by England players who missed penalties at Euro 2020. The title of the documentary comes from an open letter written by Southgate to England fans in 2021.
The Olivier Theatre at the National will host the play's debut in June.
The producers have called on one well-known international name, Hollywood actor Ralph Fiennes, while the roles of players like Marcus Rashford and Harry Kane have not yet been cast.
The actor, who shares the same age as Southgate at 52 and is also an Englishman, was nominated for a Bafta for his portrayal of Shakespeare in the Oscar-winning movie Shakespeare in Love. He has also appeared in The Handmaid's Tale.
One of our best actors, Joseph, hasn't performed on stage in a while, Graham remarked.
He, I, and the director sort of jokingly remarked that Gareth would typically return to the stage in Henry V or King Lear.
But I do believe that it has that scope, that epic quality, and his journey in the unlikely character of Gareth Southgate. I'm hoping that's what attracted Joseph to the role. ".
Along with the acclaimed Sherwood TV series, Graham is also known for the Who Wants to be a Millionaire-inspired play Quiz.
For the first time in ten years—since he staged his career-altering Parliamentary drama This House—he will perform at the National Theatre once more in Dear England.
I sense that pressure, he admitted. "Since it is obviously quite presumptuous to put the national game on the stage at the National Theatre, I can relate to how the players and Gareth must feel in terms of expectation.
"However, everything feels doable with the team we've assembled. ".
Dear England, which will be directed by Rupert Goold, is "a captivating examination into the complex psychology of the much-loved beautiful game," according to Rufus Norris, artistic director of the National Theatre.
The Football Association declined to comment on the new play, but Graham claimed that he and his production team had private discussions about it.
The performance will take place six months after Kane missed a late penalty as England was eliminated from the World Cup by France in the quarterfinals. Southgate has declared that he will continue leading England until after Euro 2024.
Writing a story that hasn't come to a conclusion is "great," according to Graham. "I had a variety of conflicting emotions as I watched England exit the most recent World Cup while I was sitting there in the pub.
Because I was obviously waiting for my story to end, as I was sitting with my friends and lamenting England's defeat, I was also thinking, "What does it mean for my story? What does it say about their journey? Is this good? Is this bad?".
"Since none of my friends sitting nearby knew I was writing this play, I imagine they were perplexed as to why I was seated motionless, gazing into my pint while trying to make sense of it all. ".
The Crucible, directed by Lyndsey Turner, will move from the National Theatre to the Gielgud Theatre in the West End this summer, according to the announcement.
The National Theatre will present Dear England from 10 June to 11 August. Sales of tickets begin on March 9.