“Remember thinking: I am quite an average man. Never thought I’d feel…”
A third visit to this play for me – Jumpers for Goalposts may have just opened at the Bush Theatre this week but this Paines Plough, Hull Truck and Watford Palace Theatre production premiered earlier this year in Watford where it utterly stole my heart and tempted me back for seconds despite the short run. Since then it has toured the UK and now ends up in the West London venue where writer Tom Wells had such success a couple of years ago with The Kitchen Sink. And in those intervening months, assisted by the intimacy of the Bush, the play has grown into something even better, even more affecting in its charming lo-fi way.
My original review says much of what I still think of the play, but I don’t think one can understate the importance of this piece of writing. The trials and tribulations of Barely Athletic, the five-a-side football team at the heart of the play are strongly, vividly portrayed, but as entirely recognisable experiences that might befall you or I. And as three of the five happen to be gay men, it holds a particular resonance for me – has a playwright ever evoked the reality of the aftermath of being gay-bashed so effectively, the mundanity of actually just having to get on with everyday life rather than focusing on the intense drama of the crime itself.
And likewise with the central love story. Though it is a homosexual one, the feelings of bashful awkwardness, intense longing and the sheer delight of the possibility of it maybe being reciprocated is something that is applicable to anyone, whether a Cornish B&B owner, a thoughtless X-Factor winner or any Russian bureaucrat. And the fact that they are gay genuinely is irrelevant on so many levels, yet vital in trying to normalise depictions of LGBT life. Jamie Samuel and Philip Duguid-McQuillan as the smitten Danny and Luke are delightful and with Andy Rush’s Geoff, create a wonderfully unaffected vibe to James Grieve’s production.
Add in excellent performances from Vivienne Gibbs as determined captain Viv and Matt Sutton’s lackadaisical Joe, both dealing with their own grief-stricken situation and in Viv’s case, some vicious lesbians, and something really rather marvellous emerges. Love and loss, football and friendship, it’s the stuff of ordinary lives but Wells recognises just how meaningful that is and in his understated, respectful way, creates one of the best pieces of theatre of the year. And as a native of Hull, he also sticks up two fingers, in the best possible way, to anyone who questioned the decision to make it the UK City of Culture in 2017 – any city should be so lucky to have as prodigiously talented a writer as he.