Theatre review: Jumpers for Goalposts, Watford Palace, London

 

It was my privilege to present Tom Wells his gong for Most Promising Playwright at the Critics' Circle Awards in 2012. This was in honour of The Kitchen Sink, an adorably funny play which, in calculated contradiction of its class-war-promising title, showed how the family of a milkman who was facing a phase-out because of competition from Tesco fought to cope with life -  in a spirit of quirky resilience and stoical humour - in a North East Yorkshire world of recession and wind-down.

In Jumpers for Goalposts, now on tour in James Grieve's enchantingly acted Paines Plough production, Wells has come up with another winner - a play that has the capacity to be the Beautiful Thing de nos jours.

The setting is a drab changing room in Hull and the play shows us a five-aside pub soccer team (called “Barely Athletic”) in the aftermath of a succession of matches against their competitors (including “Tranny United” and “Lesbian Rovers”) in a Lesbian and Gay footie league.

Their lack of prowess and progress narks Vivienne Gibbs's trainer Viv, an ambitious refugee from the lesbian team who has even personally purchased the gold trophy she would so love to win. Viv doesn't mince words. She's taken on Joe (Matt Sutton), the husband of her recently deceased sister, as the team's token straight man as she wants to save him from days of mending boilers and then home to “Pot Noodle and a misery wank”. “Usually just have toast,” chips in Joe equably in a touch of shrugging bathos that is delightfully typical of the author.

If happiness writes white, then goodness tends to write wet or grating but Wells has the rare gift of being able to capture the goodness that resides amongst people with an unfashionable and unforced warmth and highly observant ear and eye for comedy. Andy Rush, who was perfection in The Kitchen Sink as the chronically shy young plumber who wanted to take his interest in drains “to the next level” turns in another brilliant performance here as the bobble-hatted “Beardy” Geoff who is “at the moment, busker. Eventually, though, I'm thinking: gay icon”. 

He is acting as a not always adroit Cupid in the gingerly growing romance between Jamie Samuel's winning Danny and the superb Philip Duguid-McQuillan’s Luke, new recruit and 19 year old librarian whose lashes flutter and whose whites of the eye flash when he talks not through affection but bashfulness as he forces out hilariously erratic but oddly accurate notions such as that the sensation of falling in love is “a bit like having a stroke. But in a good way.”  Unreservedly recommended.

To 20 April; 01923 225671 – then touring till November 2013

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