Michael Essien I want to play as you…

SICK! Festival continued at Contact on 24 March.  Michael Essien I want to play as you… by Belgium based artist/athlete Ahilan Ratnamohan is ‘a powerful and explosive football-dance-theatre performance exploring the line between hope and desperation for young African footballers who migrate to Europe in search of a life out of poverty’.

In the big money world of football, what happens to those that don’t make it?   Describing themselves as ‘rough diamonds, commodities traded around the world’, six African footballers recount their real life experiences of trying to break into the major European clubs.  Driven by twin pressures of family and their own dreams, there is no easy way to go back home when it doesn’t work out; the pressure to achieve something in Europe is overwhelming, the success rate miniscule.  ‘You get trapped’.  Often their illegal status makes it impossible to get any job at all.  They find ‘family’ in the peer groups training in the park.  How does their experience impact on their masculinity?  It is a world away from what we see every week on TV.

The play’s structure is fascinating.  On the face of it, this seems a very simple production.  There is more football than anything else; skills practice, three-a-side, physical training.  The ‘dance’ is improvised, perhaps reminiscent of goal celebrations.  The ‘theatre’ is the personal stories.  But because the six actors have experienced what they are talking about, simple actions and phrases become hugely loaded.  Behind the dialogue sits a sadness, unfulfilled dreams, perhaps a sense of shame.  There is undoubtedly anger just below the surface, a sense of injustice.  Every joyous touch of the ball is tinged with desperation.

The most powerful scene is the last.  As their dreams disappear with the fading light the footballers train ever harder.  Are we not all like this?  However distant our dreams, do we not hold on to them whatever evidence suggests that we can never achieve them?  Is this what it is to be human?



Theatre lover, amateur director, occasional actor, writer.

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