Kevin Garside: It may pass unremarked in theatreland, but homosexuality faces intolerance and hostility throughout society, not just in football

What did ‘The Pass’ reveal about the game and its taboos? Surprisingly little

On an intimate, rooftop stage in the rafters of the Royal Court in London, homosexuality in football is given the theatrical treatment, which in this example opens with two fit young actors parading around in their undercrackers.

It took me back a generation to my undergraduate days, spent for the most part as the boyfriend of a drama student. I was the weird bloke with the Charlie Nicholas haircut who talked about football at parties. I neither drank alcohol nor opined about the Alexander technique. I was mostly mute, save for stealing a bit of sporting banter in clandestine clusters.

An evening in the press seats also reminded me what an odd thing theatre is, one group of people performing expressly for another. Unlike sport, the audience is integral. Without it there is no play. Outside the professional arena, there is no audience for sport, save for the ubiquity of one man and his dog. This makes the dynamic between doers and watchers wholly different, more complicated and harder to trust, especially when interpreting the value of the message.

The recent revelation by Thomas Hitzlsperger has thrust the issue of homosexuality back into the football spotlight, a development jumped on by the theatre’s PR machine seeking a wider audience for its production of The Pass. Fair enough. It is important that young playwrights and their work are recognised, and the Royal Court is tireless in the promotion of avant-garde theatre.

So what did John Donnelly’s play reveal about the beautiful game and its taboos? Surprisingly little, I’m afraid. I was persuaded through the doors on the understanding that The Pass was an inquiry into the conventions and mores of a game immersed in machismo and historically hostile to the presence of gay participants.

But the action did not take us into the dressing room as such but the bedroom, albeit in a hotel setting.

Rooming as Under-17s on the eve of their first-team debuts, Ade and Jason are thrust into each other’s naked company. Ade is gay but undeclared, Jason is gay but in denial. And thus the plot propels us into the world of adolescent insecurity and masculine uncertainty.

The laddish inflections are all there and nicely observed, yet, though attached to a footballing theme, they revealed little about how homosexuality manifests itself in the game in a way that it does not outside it. There was no unique element exposing footballing attitudes and repression. What it revealed was a fault line in society. If there were tolerance of homosexuals in our lives, there would be no need for Hitzlsperger and others to come out, for they would not be imprisoned in the first place. It is not football that made Hitzlsperger’s life choices difficult to confront but the civilisation in which the game flourishes.

Yes, we have made huge structural strides, with the advance of civil partnerships and gay marriage and the criminalising of behaviour that persecutes individuals because of their sexual orientation. In cosmopolitan centres and niche enclaves like London theatreland, acceptance is no longer an issue.

But for ordinary folk untouched by the phenomenon, homosexuality remains an abstract issue until it explodes painfully in their provincial faces. The difficulty and angst faced by so many young people too scared to confront the emerging reality of their same-sex impulses, even to tell their parents, remains a huge issue in UK households far removed from the capital’s enlightened precincts, so why should football be any different?

By setting the gay question in a football milieu, Donnelly identifies it as a problem for the game but not beyond. The assumption must be that, in light of the formal strides made in civil life, all is well in the world and football is dragging its antiquated, prejudiced feet. The truth is that professional sport as a whole, not just football, is conditioned by unreconstructed attitudes, as opposed to being their progenitor.

So, on a theoretical level, the play finds itself in a conceptual cul-de-sac, unable to deliver the insight it promises. But as a piece of entertainment it performs rather better. Russell Tovey is razor-sharp as the alienated high-achiever, whose personal life and sense of self unravels at an inverse rate to his soaring financial status. His refusal to acknowledge publicly his homosexuality, to protect his image and therefore his economic power, results in a broken existence devoid of happiness and meaning.

Ade (Gary Carr) is as happy as Larry; out, shacked up with his boyfriend and running his own plumbing business after being discarded by his club at the first hurdle.

The play brings the two together at the close in powerful, tragicomic scenes that counterpose the emptiness of the rich footballer living a lie with the wealth of the tradesman at peace with himself.

Special mention to Lisa McGrillis, neither male nor homosexual, but brilliantly authentic as Lyndsey, a Geordie tart adept at separating a cheating man from his money while simultaneously deepening her integrity.

News
Sir David Attenborough
people
Life and Style
Young girl and bowl of cereal
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
'The Archers' has an audience of about five million
radioA growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried
News
Comic miserablist Larry David in 'Curb Your Enthusiasm'
peopleDirector of new documentary Misery Loves Comedy reveals how he got them to open up
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Henry VIII played by Damien Lewis
tvReview: Scheming queens-in-waiting, tangled lines of succession and men of lowly birth rising to power – sound familiar?
Sport
football
News
i100
Life and Style
Virtual reality headset: 'Essentially a cinema screen that you strap to your face'
techHow virtual reality is thrusting viewers into frontline of global events and putting film-goers at the heart of the action
Arts and Entertainment
Ready to open the Baftas, rockers Kasabian are also ‘great film fans’
musicExclusive: Rockers promise an explosive opening to the evening
Life and Style
David Bowie by Duffy
fashion
Arts and Entertainment
Hell, yeah: members of the 369th Infantry arrive back in New York
booksWorld War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel
News
advertisingVideo: The company that brought you the 'Bud' 'Weis' 'Er' frogs and 'Wasssssup' ads, has something up its sleeve for Sunday's big match
Arts and Entertainment
tv
News
i100
Environment
Dame Vivienne Westwood speaking at a fracking protest outside Parliament on Monday (AP)
environment
Life and Style
tech
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee
World War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel

Max Brooks honours Harlem Hellfighters

The author talks about race, legacy and his Will Smith film option to Tim Walker
Why the league system no longer measures up

League system no longer measures up

Jon Coles, former head of standards at the Department of Education, used to be in charge of school performance rankings. He explains how he would reform the system
Valentine's Day cards: 5 best online card shops

Don't leave it to the petrol station: The best online card shops for Valentine's Day

Can't find a card you like on the high street? Try one of these sites for individual, personalised options, whatever your taste
Diego Costa: Devil in blue who upsets defences is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

Devil in blue Costa is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

The Reds are desperately missing Luis Suarez, says Ian Herbert
Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

Former one-day coach says he will ‘observe’ their World Cup games – but ‘won’t be jumping up and down’
Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

Greece elections

In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

Holocaust Memorial Day

Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
Fortitude and the Arctic attraction: Our fascination with the last great wilderness

Magnetic north

The Arctic has always exerted a pull, from Greek myth to new thriller Fortitude. Gerard Gilbert considers what's behind our fascination with the last great wilderness