2024’s Shell Play, Kick-off!, written and directed by Millie Felix, was an electrifying blend of football’s highs and lows, following the lives of three injured teenage boys; fifteen year-old Will (played by Ned C), sixteen year-old Seb (played by Laszlo G) and eighteen year-old Tom (played by Ollie B).

The boys are struggling to cope under the strains of their sporting injuries and absence from football.  As the curtains parted, the lights fell on these broken-spirited athletes who are physio bound, performing their exercises with much discontent. Soon however, throughout these sessions, they break out of their introverted shells and discover the one thread of relatability that links them all together, the collective pain of missing out on the sport they love. A conversation on the cause of their injury is sparked, leading to flashbacks of each of the boys’ backstories, displaying the build-up and ongoing impacts their injury has caused. The audience soon discover that the boys are battling academically and socially, falling from popularity and losing any hint they once had of being model students. They fall behind on work, and teachers and students alike begin to notice their struggle, yet speaking about it doesn’t seem to help.

All three stories had a seamlessly choreographed sequence displaying the tragic moment of injury, making great use of dramatic lighting and perfect physicality to emulate the blur of a football match. The design perfectly created the setting and atmosphere. The stage was transformed into a football pitch, with a stadium upstage that was lined with Radley inspired commercial billboards and a stand full of cheering supporters. The England kit and memorabilia, worn by supporters, helped intensify the camaraderie of football with many cheers and flags waving.

Lazslo (Seb) gave an incredibly raw depiction of a boy trying to live up to tough expectations, shown through a captivating monologue and interaction with his peers. These same peers are quick to move on to their new captain of football and whilst they prepare for the big final, and Seb is left abandoned. Ollie (Tom) sensitively captured the pressures of body confidence, through his character’s obsession with weighing himself, and Ned (Will) perfectly demonstrated how frustrating concussion can be in everyday life. The wonderfully entertaining coach, Bill Russell, played by Archie B, must get a mention for beautifully showing the tragedy behind his character, taking a step away from his hilarious singing and dancing to open up to the boys about his failure as a professional. A switch begins to flip within the boys, and with support from their mates and teachers the narrative is able to finish at a buzzing crescendo with the trio forming a tight bond before going their separate ways, excited at what’s to come in their sporting careers.

However, everyone is brought together one more time for a patriotic ending based on the upcoming England’s euros and the failures of the past. Once again, the stands erupt at every twist and turn of the game with main characters brought together to witness the elation as well as the cruelty of the sport they love.

Shell Play ST24