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Jumpers for Goalposts

Tom Wells' play, in a co-production from Paines Plough, Hull Truck and Watford Palace Theatre, is an "utterly charming must-see"

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Jumpers for Goalposts originally ran at the Watford Palace Theatre earlier in 2013, and has now transferred for a run at West London's Bush Theatre. It centres around a team who are part of a gay five-a-side football league, and the relationships between the players. The action takes place within a single dressing room set (designed by Lucy Osborne), allowing the focus to fall fully on the substance of the play.

And what substance there is. Tom Wells' writing is truly exceptional, sparkling with wit and dialogue so natural that at times you forget you're watching a scripted play and feel you're spying on a real-life dressing room. The play tackles some undeniably big ‘issues', but always with real humour and emotion, never becoming mawkish or preachy. There are laugh-out-loud moments and times when you can hear a pin drop.

How lovely it is, too, to see a play set proudly in the slightly unfashionable ‘northern backwater' of Hull – although its recent designation as UK City of Culture for 2017 may be an indication of greater things to come. In the meantime, this play is a delightful reminder that there is life beyond the capital and Estuary English.

All five performances are beautifully judged and create an entirely believable set of characters. Viv (Vivienne Gibbs), manager of the team, is a lesbian pub landlady of deadpan sarcasm and toughness, but with a softer centre. Joe (Matt Sutton), her brother-in-law, is lacking a bit of drive and pushing 40, but dealing well with personal tragedy. Beardy/Geoff (Andy Rush) is a hippyish, woolly-hat-wearing busker who's out for a good time but tries (and occasionally fails) to do the right thing by his friends.

Particular kudos must go to Philip Duguid-McQuillan as socially-awkward librarian Luke, and Jamie Samuel as sports student Danny, whose burgeoning relationship is at the centre of the story. What you witness is an honest portrait of two people finding their way into each other's hearts, by turns truly funny and genuinely moving.

Jumpers for Goalposts is ostensibly a play about a gay five-a-side football team, but in reality it's about so much more than that. This is an utterly charming must-see; a couple of very minor tweaks and it could be perfect.