“Next season, we’re aiming for third”
Some might cite Tom Wells’ new play Jumpers for Goalposts for its slightly fantastical air and lack of serious dramatic tension, but that would be to entirely miss the point of its warm-hearted yet clear-sighted pleasures. The play follows a predominantly gay five-a-side football team –Barely United – in Hull, scraped together from a selection of misfits and gradually unwinds to reveal their reasons for signing up and the impact that being part of this team has on their lives. But though it is gentle rather than grand, it is a hugely affecting and uplifting piece of theatre that feels vitally important from a writer who genuinely can find the extraordinary in the ordinary.
In previous plays such as the tender Me, As A Penguin and the glorious The Kitchen Sink, Wells has demonstrated a gift for exploring the challenges of young gay life outside of the big cities and a serious talent for understated but highly comic writing and both are brought to bear here with great effect. Beardy Geoff splits his time between seducing the opposition and coming up with a song to win a talent show; head coach Viv wants to score revenge on the Lesbian Rovers team that kicked her out but also offer some respite to her grieving brother-in-law; and Danny, struggling to get through his coaching qualification, is entirely distracted by new arrival Luke, a painfully shy librarian.
James Grieve’s production is impeccably acted across the five-strong company and captures perfectly the sweet-sharp switches of Wells’ script, as the wry observations of the comedy occasionally gives way to the darker truths of these characters’ lives. Viv’s forthrightness, given sparky life by Vivienne Gibbs, masks her own unacknowledged grief and the extrovert actions of Geoff, Andy Rush combining cocksure swagger with an adorable fragility wonderfully, can’t quite hide the lingering sorrow of being bashed. The plot holds few surprises ultimately but this writing sings with such freshness and clarity that you won’t whether to laugh or cry (you’ll probably do both).
And then there’s the sweet love story between Danny and Luke. Philip Duguid-McQuillan delivers the former’s awkwardness with a lovely charm and Jamie Samuel makes the latter a hugely appealing figure and through the obstacles that lie in their path to maybe starting a relationship, is a subtle tenderness that rings with genuine honest emotion. Yes, one could look at it as too good to be true but equally, one can celebrate the creation of such positive representations of relatable gay characters, fairytale ending or not, to be played in theatres across the country as Paines Plough tour this co-production with Watford Palace and Hull Truck.