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West Yorkshire Playhouse / 17th July 2013 / 7.45 pm
It ain’t always easy being young, gay, awkward and in Hull. Jumpers for Goalposts, the most recent play from the infuriatingly young and talented Tom Wells, takes that thesis and runs with it, resulting in a romantic comedy with a streak of quite un-romantic realism.
The play follows the fortunes of (mostly) gay five-a-side football team Barely Athletic as they struggle with their personal demons and, more pressingly, their almost complete lack of sporting talent. Head coach Viv is the one holding it together, driven by her desire to win a trophy and get a little personal revenge on her old team, Lesbian Rovers, who threw her out for being too aggressive. Beardy Geoff’s just in it for the laughs and possibly a little cheeky nookie with the opposition. Joe, the token straight bloke, wants some company. Danny wants Luke, the cute kid from the local library. And Luke… well, Luke doesn’t appear to know what he wants, other than to catch the bus home before his dad’s Yorkshire puddings go cold.
In the vein of classic British comedies like Brassed Off and The Full Monty, it’s a comedy about ordinary people that revels in its ordinariness, keeping the laughs coming but underpinned by a vein of anger and sadness. As such, there’s few surprises in the plot, but the naturalism of the dialogue and the quality of the acting make it feel utterly natural and believable. There are so many romcoms and so many gay dramas which feel completely divorced from the lives of all but a rarified few, but Jumpers for Goalposts is completely rooted in reality. These people felt like people they knew. They talk like people I know. What happens, all of it, although perhaps resolved a little more cleanly than happens without the aid of dramatic license, are things I have known to happen to people around me.
The cast seemed slightly wary in the first five minutes, but very quickly hit their stride, helped perhaps by an appreciative and friendly audience (give or take a woman behind me who went ‘ooh!’ every time there was a kiss, in a manner that might have been shock, delight or possibly both). The staging – one set, a few props – was simple but did everything the story needed it to do.
The story is light, but doesn’t gloss over the difficulties of life (gay or otherwise); likewise, though it touches on serious issues, it doesn’t preach or get bogged down in moralising. Though it’s about gay characters and amateur football, you don’t have to care for gay fiction, footy or either to be able to relate to the universal themes that it covers. And most importantly, it’s really funny. It may not be groundbreaking, but in a world where gay fiction seems to fall into extremes of everything being either completely fabulous or utterly miserable, its down-to-earth attitude is a breath of fresh air. Definitely recommended.
Jumpers for Goalposts is touring until 21 December, showing at the West Yorkshire Playhouse until 21 September. www.painesplough.com/current-programme/by-date/jumpers-for-goalposts