Dropped at Canal Cafe Theatre review: a moving tale of sacrifice for dashed footballing dreams

·2-min read
Alfie Cain  (handout)
Alfie Cain (handout)

It’s no secret that the path to becoming a professional footballer is a competitive one. Often starting as young as nine years old, thousands of kids spend their formative years training at premier league football academies. But less than 1 per cent of those who train go on to develop a successful career in the sport. For the rest, their dreams will come to a grinding halt at the age of 18 as they are told: it’s all over.

This was the case for writer/performer Alfie Cain who delivers a remarkable central performance in his debut solo play, Dropped. In a direct monologue to the audience, Cain performs as footballer Joe and speaks candidly about dedicating his life to the sport without a plan B and tries to make sense of how things went so wrong for him in real time. Cain channels his raw and honest feelings of failure and disappointment into his characterisation of Joe, creating a deeply personal and affecting play.

Joe begins enthusiastically, reminiscing about his first introduction to football at age four and the pride he felt knowing that he played for a football academy. There are regular moments of comedy woven into the piece as Cain playfully embodies the personas of those he grew up around, his coaches and teammates.

Alfie Cain ably expresses both the joy and the pain of his relationship with football (handout)
Alfie Cain ably expresses both the joy and the pain of his relationship with football (handout)

The play comes into its own though when Joe grapples with the central question of whether he and his parents would have made so many sacrifices for football had they known how it would all end. Joe feels cheated out of a life he was convinced was possible, and talks openly about the stress and the injuries he’s suffered, such as back problems, in his twenties that are more commonly seen in people over 50. As he reflects on these challenges, his rage builds to a fever pitch and Cain ably portrays the hurt buried beneath the pain.

Direction by Annabel Mullion and Rita Bernard Shaw is assured and is at its best in the play’s final dark moments, when a flashback reveals a secret that overshadows everything.

Cain’s script is unfortunately the show’s main weakness. It attempts to touch on a wide range of substantial themes, including the politics of getting ahead in youth football groups, issues of crime, and the mounting pressure that children face in academies, but doesn’t give any of them the chance to breathe, making it hard for the audience to digest them. Still, this semi-autobiographical play stays with you - there’s something undeniably tragic in Cain’s experience of dreams summarily dashed, and it’s an important story to tell.

Canal Cafe Theatre, to May 29; canalcafetheatre.com

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