A seemingly simple audio-visual experience which proffers a stunningly complex meditation on ideas of heritage and identity.

Credit: Shay Rowan

Created by Keisha Thompson and directed by Nathan Powell, 14% is an immersive new play which explores football culture, identity, heritage, and modern England. For Thompson, football culture is a launchpad for discussions of identity and belonging. Thompson explains: “I am very passionate about football…there are so many political issues tied to it…I just wanted to tell a story about a woman who is passionate about football and gets her sense of belonging and Britishness from that culture”. 14% is created in partnership with the National Football Museum, a fact immediately acknowledged upon entering the space; football memorabilia hangs from the ceiling and the audience is invited to play simple games while waiting for the experience to fully begin. Despite the memorabilia, 14% isn’t about blind devotion to football legacy; it is about the pain and joy of belonging. While the central focus is Nadia, this is detailed and thought-provoking interactive theatre; the audience’s Englishness is also interrogated. The show’s soundscape is created by Tom Leah, and the immersive set design is by Alison Erika Forde. 

This production is a labour of love. For this reason, the audience is small. Upon entering, the audience is split, allowing multiple stories to run concurrently. 14% explore the aftermath of a post-match train journey, and the audience eavesdrops on their fellow passengers’ overlapping conversations. An audio clip plays as the audience finds their places on a train/corridor. In this clip, a group of men discuss football, their love lives, traditions, and social identity with strong undertones of misogyny and racism. While belonging to each other as football fans, they are limited by each other’s beliefs and prejudices. This discomfort leads to the “othering” of Nadia and other passengers, resulting in exclusion from the train journey entirely; they are kicked off the train because of their rowdy behaviour. This section is relatively simple; the language is realistic and recognisable. This section introduces “belonging” as something that brings both pleasure and pain. As this is a pre-recorded loop, this still offers priority to Nadia’s live performance and her story.

Credit: Shay Rowan

Nadia’s story is more conceptual and complex. Nadia’s conversation with her unborn child is told through verbal language, but also through movement and dance. Nadia is struggling, but she cannot pinpoint the exact reason. For most of the play, she needs the toilet and refuses to go, but cannot rationalise her refusal. Along with this physical battle, Nadia faces an emotional one; she cannot determine how she feels about her identity, heritage, and England. While this has been a lifelong struggle, Nadia is under special pressure now; she wants to provide these answers for her unborn son and avoid passing on generational struggles. As the struggle becomes more complex, Nadia’s communication becomes increasingly abstract and vulnerable. The strength of this piece is its writing; the staging and set design are simple, allowing complete focus on the actor. The soundscape and lighting support the text, but do not distract from it. 

14% is stunningly beautiful, insightful, and balanced. It is interactive enough that the audience realises its place in this narrative, but not so interactive that they are distracted from the piece’s core ideas. From a critical point of view, there is little I can suggest in terms of development; 14% is complete, with clear choices despite its abstract and experimental nature. 14% is in Contact Theatre until 28th October, and I would recommend this play to anyone.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

{🎟 AD – PR invite – Tickets were gifted in exchange for an honest review}

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