Keisha Thompson’s 14%

Set against the frenzy of the Lionesses’ success, this brand new multi-sensory play at Contact invites you on a journey inside the confines of a post-match train carriage.

I love football. I played a lot of it as a young girl in primary school. Thank goodness I went to a school that was encouraging in that way. It shocked me when I got to high school to learn that so many of my female peers did not get the opportunity to do things like football at their schools.

Catapult ten years ahead to the brilliant poet, Hollie McNish telling me about the Dick Kerr Ladies and the ban on women’s football after the war. They were drawing crowds of tens of thousands then the FA shut it down. Whenever I find out about things like this, they sit with me. I know they will appear in my work when the time is right.

So, 14%. How did it come about?

Pre-pandemic, I was encouraged to write a new piece of work following the success of my solo show, Man on the Moon. It was an interesting time for football. Women’s football was getting traction. The discussions around racism in British football was palpable. It was becoming increasingly difficult to remove political conversations from the football forum.

On a personal level, my partner at the time was really into football. It made me realise how much I had missed. I had stopped engaging with it as a viewer and a player. How and when did this happen? Why have I never felt comfortable enough to go to a football match? How is it that I’m a proud Manc, in a city known for its brilliant football and yet I do not feel like I can be a part of this culture? When I tried to confront these ideas, I could not help but think about many of the unpleasant experiences I had experienced in public spaces with football fans. And thus, it was time. I knew what I wanted my next piece to be about.

I really enjoy writing about restrictions and taboos. So, when I was prompted to consider writing a piece that I could submit to The Bruntwood Prize for Playwriting, 14% was it. I was quite proud that it got long-listed since it was only the second draft. My thoughts were still inchoate but what can you do? A deadline is a deadline. I was super appreciative of the feedback I received, and it spurred me on to continue getting support to develop it.

In 2020, Talawa provided me with a week of support with a director and a brilliant cast. We had so much fun researching and developing the piece. However, it also happened the day after the Euro Cup final when Rashford, Sancho and Saka missed their penalties. The tension in the air was undeniable. It became even more apparent to me how urgent and relevant this piece was.

I brought the piece with me to Contact when I started as the Artistic Director. I reached out to a fiery emerging producer, Cece, to take it to the presentation stage. It has been such a joy working with her and a supersonic creative team: Nathan Powell, Tom Leah and Alison Erika Forde to name a few.

Lauren Fitzpatrick, previous Contact Young Company actor and multi-disciplinary performer is the lead. Some of you might have seen her on Eastenders. Others might have seen her throwing shapes at various festivals. She is a dream. I am honoured that she is playing the role of Nadia – a female footballer who is pregnant. As she sits on a train from London to Manchester, she is trapped with some football fans. The claustrophobic journey makes her confront her sense of Britishness. And more pressingly, how she can pass this on to her unborn child. As I mentioned, I like tackling big topics but in a fun way.

So, this piece is smelly. It’s loud. It’s active. Coming?

Keisha Thompson
Contact Artistic Director/CEO

Contact | Until 28 October 2023

Set against the frenzy of the Lioness’ success, this brand new multi-sensory play by Keisha Thompson invites you on a journey inside the confines of a post-match train carriage.

This article was originally published in the new Oxford Road Corridor zine. The autumn edition is available to pick up for free from spaces around Oxford Road. You can view it online here too.

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