“You can do it!” shouts a little lad sat a couple of rows from the front. Footy-fanatic Joey (Danny Childs) is about to take a game-changing shot, and his calamity-strewn journey to get to this point – unwashed kits, misplaced half-time oranges, and a broken down car all causing a race-against-the-clock dash to the pitch – has us all cheering him on as though this were England taking a penalty in the World Cup. Keepy Uppy is a show about skills and tricks, flicks and kicks but also, as this spontaneous outburst of encouragement from the audience recognizes, the support and self-belief it takes to be at the top of your game.
Wendy Harris’s direction inventively captures Joey’s devotion to the beautiful game: through his eyes, showerheads and soap bars are footballs, toasted soldiers are teammates passing a boiled egg ball, and every spare moment is a chance to practice and perfect his moves. It’s an enthusiasm matched by his busy mum (Eden Domenique) who makes sure, in between endless work calls, to join in when Joey’s imagination takes flight – he envisions hoofing a ball so high it spins up into space – or his nerves about the cup final kick in. But as more and more obstacles hinder them on their way to the match, the nerves are less about whether he’ll perform under pressure, and more about whether he’ll be able to play at all.
Joey and Mum are the ultimate teammates: the easy way they tidy up the kitchen table throwing and catching cutlery, limber up for the game, or match each other’s movements as they rush through tasks in a desperate bid to get to the game, reflect the close relationship that is at the heart of Keepy Uppy. The sense of constant movement, physical storytelling, and impressive football tricks (Joey seems perilously close to smashing the ball out into the audience but niftily misses it each time) are combined with Evan Placey’s pacey, rhyme- and rhythm-filled script and Vittorio Angelone’s lively soundtrack to create the fizzing energy that a show about sport needs to pull off.
But football, like this play, isn’t just about physical feats: it relies on mental and emotional fitness too. As they tackle a morning just as challenging as any opposing side, Mum teaches Joey both the technical tips and tactics, and the focus and confidence, that all the best footballers need – success is “in your heart and it’s in your right foot.” So, while the whole world is whipped up in a World Cup frenzy, let’s hope Harry Kane and his mates have supportive mums who are just as wise.
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