by Tom Wells.

Watford Palace Theatre 20 Clarendon Road WD17 1JZ To 20 April 2013.
Mon-Sat 7.45pm Mat Sat 2.30pm.
Audio-described 23 Feb 2.30pm.
Captioned 18 Feb.

TICKETS: 01923 225671.

Hull Truck Theatre 50 Ferensway HU2 8LB 29 August-14 September 2013.
Mon-Sat 7.45pm Mat Sat & 11 Sept 2pm.
TICKETS: 01482 323638.

Runs 1hr 35min No interval.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 19 April.

Beautiful thing at the Beautiful Game.

Twenty years after Jonathan Harvey’s gay love story Beautiful Thing (just revived), and almost thirty since John Godber’s Up ‘n’ Under, premiered in Hull, the story of a no-hope amateur rugby team, sex and sport meet in Tom Wells’ witty, sentimental comedy about the kind of pop-up league in an online ‘Jumpers for Goalposts’ game.

Barely Athletic is part of a gay league. As one of them says, they don’t win but make good losers. It’s something at which they acquire experience, despite the efforts of player-coach Viv, on loan from Lesbian Rovers. Then, as personal matters loom more prominent, even the coaching takes back seat in the changing-room where the play’s set.

They use the place for free in exchange for Danny keeping it clean – though Lucy Osborne’s set is pristine by the side of most changing-rooms I’ve seen. It’s part of an educational assignment for him, though it becomes clear his main education will be emotional. Wells lets Danny’s big secret emerge as the comedy slows and emotional dilemmas become the focus in the play’s later stages.

His lover, if they can overcome swathes of shyness and fears, is 19-year old Luke, helper at the local library, and writhing in fragmented phrases as his nerves discompose him in Philip Duguid-McQuillan’s magnetic performance, as he switches between silence on the sidelines and nervous passages of apology and excuses suggesting a mind darting round a bagatelle board, at the mercy of his over-active nerves.

James Grieve’s production follows the trajectory of Wells’ writing, starting at comic speed then decelerating through alternate serious and humorous moments. And there’s always space for humour with the likes of Vivienne Gibbs’ acerbic Viv or Andy Rush as a busker with ambitions, and Matt Sutton’s Joe, as they variously engineer Luke and Danny through shyness towards admitting their mutual affection.

The team is hopeless, but this cast are winners, though some might retrain on the vowels before reaching Hull. And the final shot needn’t be handed to ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’. Its use is obvious and unnecessary – the opposite of the rest of this play.

Luke: Philip Duguid-McQuillan.
Viv: Vivienne Gibbs.
Geoff: Andy Rush.
Danny: Jamie Samuel.
Joe: Matt Sutton.
Announcer: James Alexander Gordon.

Director: James Grieve.
Designer: Lucy Osborne.
Lighting: Charles Balfour.
Sound: Nick Nanning.
Dialect coach: Daniele Lydon.
Assistant director: Mark Maughan.

2013-04-20 08:24:49

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