With the latest revelation from Thomas Hitzlsperger and Tom Daley coming out as gay, the topic of high profile sportsman and homosexuality is much discussed. This new play by John Donnelly is set over a 12 year period of a professional footballer Jason’s career. It begins on the evening before his first appearance for the team, sharing a hotel room with a fellow debutant and friend Ade. Their relationship perhaps something more than just friends and team-mates. A few years later at the height of Jason’s footballing fame and success, he spends an evening with a table dancer in a hotel room with dubious intentions. In the final act, Jason invited Ade to catch up in his hotel room where he is living having separated from his wife. By then, his star has wane and battling with injuries and looking for a club that will take him for a final season or two.
At first instance, it can be seen as a play about a gay footballer and having to conform to a heterosexual footballer stereotype, ended up being dissatisfied about his life despite his footballing achievements. But the play covers a wider scope and looks much deeper at the role of money and success, especially how it enables one to control and manipulate the media and those around. The play explicitly draws on the example of Jimmy Saville as to the extent of the appalling behaviour which some of the rich and famous get away with. All these are handled in the play with great skill, mixing subtle look and gesture with overt excess in confrontations and debauchery. Although the writing occasionally wanders and becomes distracted with details, it soon snaps back to its core message and story.
The direction by John Tiffany incorporates his usual choreographed scene changes performed to music with a heavy beat. The audience seated on the opposite sides of the central stage alluding to a football stadium, while giving some interesting possibilities for the audience to choose their focus when performers are on either end of the stage. The choice is not always an easy one with the excellent cast. Russell Tovey is outstanding as Jason, managing to convince as the youngster full of innocence and optimism in the first scene. It is also played with suggestions of thoughtfulness that enable him to transform believably into this calculating and cold monster in the subsequent acts. Gary Carr’s Ade is understated and mellows as years go by. Lisa McGrillis plays the WAG type dancer with a mix of strength and vulnerability and at the same time, holding onto a degree of dignity. Nico Miranllegro stands-out playing the smaller role as the off duty hotel worker Harry, joining in with Jason’s excesses. Miranllegro’s story of a stag party in Krakow is beautifully delivered.
This is a thoughtful look of modern celebrity culture and observations on the topical subject about machismo of sport. It is delivered with wit and craft, with a good dose of danger and tension.