Keisha Thompson
Contact, Manchester

Listing details and ticket info...

Lauren Fitzpatrick as Nadia Credit: Shay Rowan
Lauren Fitzpatrick as Nadia Credit: Shay Rowan
Lauren Fitzpatrick as Nadia Credit: Shay Rowan

Contact Artistic Director Keisha Thompson's latest play is set in a world that has, at long last, started to achieve some prominence: that of women's professional football.

The audience is given a train ticket on entry and is presented with a few things to play with in the centre of the small studio theatre, mostly focussing on flags, capitals and nationalities, which are whisked away before the start—as are half of the audience, depending on what it says on their train ticket.

This is the second performance I've seen in as many days where the audience is split and sees each half of the play in a different location, albeit at very different scales (the Aviva Studios press night drinks budget could probably keep most regional theatres going for several months). I remained seated in the studio as some of the audience were hustled off through a back door.

It begins, for those who stay, with a typical sports interview, with Lauren Fitzpatrick's tracksuited Nadia facing questions from an unseen TV journalist (Frankie Lipman). The '14' of the title is mentioned as the number of weeks' maternity leave FIFA has mandated for female footballers—Nadia is pregnant—but it will acquire a different meaning later on. Nadia gets on a train and needs the toilet but is reluctant to go for various reasons.

Then her unborn baby talks to her in her head—in a rather deep adult male voice (Isah-Levi Roach). Baby can understand the train inspector (Nakib Narat) when he speaks on his phone in Punjabi and one of the crowd of men she finds a little intimidating who speaks on his phone in Polish. He persuades 'mum' to look at the results of a nationality DNA test, which shows her to be more mixed-race than she thought, but 14% English, which initially she finds disappointing—she seems to want to not be English at all.

Various events occur on the train to raise interesting questions about nationality, race—or should that be ethnicity, as one of the men states?—and prejudice, including an unscheduled stop for the police to remove some passengers who were racially abusing the guard.

For the second half, the audiences are swapped over, and our group were stood in a narrow corridor backstage, listening to recorded voices of the group of men mentioned previously, one of whom is trying to upload a video, while looking at the passing view through a dirty train window on a TV screen. There is then a short finale when all the audience are reunited and Nadia arrives at her destination but has a rather scary ride in a taxi.

Fitzpatrick holds the attention well as the sole live performer with a script that rather subtly and cleverly comes at the issue of identity from a number of different angles. Geneticist Adam Rutherford has often stated that these types of DNA test are pretty meaningless and that 'race' is a social construct with little basis in genetics, but that this doesn't mean it is insignificant as it is still a lens through which we judge other people—and ourselves. This idea comes across well in this play as a question to be raised, leaving the audience to ponder the answers.

Where it doesn't work quite so well is in some of the practicalities. Half an hour or so is fine when you're sitting in a theatre watching a performer, but it feels a lot longer when you're standing in a cramped corridor clutching all your belongings just listening to recorded voices, and sometimes just the train noise for a minute or so, with nothing visual except the passing fields and buildings through the 'window'.

The script is entertaining and provides lots of food for thought, all well-delivered by both the live and recorded actors, but the staging ideas, though interesting and innovative, are a little clunky in practice. But it's still worth seeing.

Reviewer: David Chadderton

*Some links, including Amazon, Stageplays.com, Bookshop.org, ATG Tickets, LOVEtheatre, BTG Tickets, Ticketmaster, LW Theatres and QuayTickets, are affiliate links for which BTG may earn a small fee at no extra cost to the purchaser.

Are you sure?