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Jumpers for Goalposts (tour - Watford, Palace Theatre)

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
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It's common knowledge that homophobia is a major issue in football, both at professional and amateur levels. So the central premise of Tom Wells' new play Jumpers for Goalposts is an intriguing one. It's set in the changing-room for one of the teams in a five-a-side fun league, all of which have daft names reflecting their unorthodox composition – Tranny United, Lesbian Rovers, Barely Athletic, Man City. The succession of scenes is announced by a radio voice iving the results of each match.

Our lot are Barely Athletic. Their coach is Viv, who would really prefer to be playing for the lesbians,but is trying to help her brother-in-law Joe to come to terms with the loss of his wife. The team maverick is Geoff, who gets by (well, sort of) by busking and cadging the odd sleepover from one or other of his teammates (usually Joe). We meet Geoff as Viv lays into him for scoring a goal – against his own side, naturally.

Then there's Danny, who fancies shy Luke, who lives in a village with his parents, works in a library and is mortally afraid of even poking a toenail out of the closet. Danny wants to make a career as a coach, but perhaps he's picked the wrong team to further that ambition. As for the possibility of a relationship with Luke – well, that remains to be seen.

It's very well written, and you can believe in these characters as real human-beings with hopes and aspirations both credible and (at the same time) probably unattainable. The performances match, with James Grieve's production balancing the comic with the emotionally touching – the scene where Danny almost wrecks his chances with Luke with an ill-judged confession punctuated by kisses is moving and rings true. There's a handsomely realistic set by Lucy Osborne which roots these young people on the outskirts of Hull.

Jamie Samuel's Danny and Philip Duguid-McQuillan's Luke hold centre stage, though Andy Rush's Geoff is a woolly-hatted scene-stealer. Mat Sutton as Joe has the least rewarding part but makes his sense of grief palpable without ever seeming mawkish. Vivienne Gibbs' Viv is a forceful personality as she tries every possible trick to motivate her team out of their bottom-of-the-scoreboard position, including being prepared to step down if that might work the miracle. This co-production between Paine's Plough, Hull Truck and the Watford Palace Theatre scores a number of goals. Definitely not bottom of anyone's league.


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