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Jumpers for Goalposts (Hull)

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Jumpers for Goalposts is a Paines Plough production together with Hull Truck and Watford Palace Theatre and was first seen at Watford, with the same cast, in April this year. Now it has come home – locally-born playwright Tom Wells is an Associate Artist of Hull Truck – at the start of a wider tour.

Tom Wells is a most engaging young writer and there is something rather cheering about the writer of such warm-hearted and understated comedies becoming established as one of the most promising writers for the theatre – and picking up the awards to prove it! The basic structure of Jumpers for Goalposts is hardly original – audiences at Hull Truck will find elements of common ground when John Godber's Muddy Cows comes touring – but the detail is a typically quirky mix of the everyday and the bizarre and he has a deft way of creating nice characters who aren't boring.

Barely Athletic is a five-a-side football team that lives us to its name and the play follows the five players through a league competition in six short post-match scenes, their off-field problems and relationships intertwined with the team's limited on-field success. The twist is that the Sunday afternoon league is the Hull Gay and Lesbian Five-a-side Football League! Viv's heart really lies with Lesbian Rovers, but she takes time out from running her pub to set up her own team, either because Lesbian Rovers found her too bossy or to provide a harmless occupation for her bereaved brother-in-law Joe, the Token Straight in the team. Beardy Geoff, would-be star of Hull Pride and gay icon, complicates the issue by having unsatisfactory sex with a member of the opposition before the games with Man City so that he finishes on the receiving end of elbows and boots. Danny, on a low level football coaching course, manages to find the fifth member of the team when he falls for shy Library assistant, Luke, whom he then recruits.

In truth the only story that goes anywhere much is that of Danny and Luke, played most touchingly by Jamie Samuel and Philip Duguid-McQuillan whose performance as Danny – gauche, innocent, silent or consumed by a torrent of disjointed words – is both truthful and eccentric. The same can be said for Andy Rush as Geoff, busker, dreamer and inefficient Cupid, wearing his bobble hat even in the shower to conceal the results of homophobic beatings. In the straight part (in both senses) of Joe Matt Sutton is convincing and likeable and Vivienne Gibbs brings plenty of drive to the part of Viv, though the performance (possibly the writing, too) tends to settle on one note of good-hearted bullying.

James Grieve's direction, like Wells' writing, makes its impact unobtrusively and Lucy Osborne's changing room set is suitably authentic.

Jumpers for Goalposts runs at Hull truck Theatre until 14 September. For further information visit www.hulltruck.co.uk

Ron Simpson