Edinburgh Fringe 2014
James Hall is at the zenith of his, to date, brief rugby career. His performances on the field have led to the papers to highlighting him as an “England prospect”. But this tall poppy is soon set to be felled by the same hacks as an ex-lover exposes James’ extra-relationship affair.
James Hall is at the zenith of his, to date, brief rugby career. His performances on the field have led to the papers highlighting him as an “England prospect”. But this tall poppy is set to be felled by the same hacks as an ex-lover exposes James’ extra-relationship affair.
No surprise there, you might say. Plenty of sportsmen, particularly footballers, have been caught with trousers in an inappropriate position. But James is different. He’s cheated on his girlfriend with Dom, an ex-rugby playing pal from his schooldays. Cue media frenzy, his on-pitch implosion, a career nosedive and some serious soul-searching. And confusion in the dressing room.
Brothers Richard and Chris Sheridan have combined to address, head on, one of the remaining taboos in society – the fact that gay people may be taking part in top flight sport. Richard Sheridan’s tightly crafted script is given life and meaning with his brother taking all the parts, from iron-pumping macho prop forwards through to jilted partners, male and female via parents, friends and Aidan, his less than sympathetic rugby coach.
It’s quite tense at times, poignant at others and genuinely funny in parts. And it is refreshing to see writing and acting involving a sport where those involved have clearly undertaken extensive research into their subject. The dressing room banter is spot on. The description of match incidents is on the money. But plaudits (for both acting and writing) go to the moment where Hall implodes mid-game in his first match after the story of his gay relationship breaks. A catalogue of missed kicks and missed tackles sees him sin binned and subbed, his world collapsing around him. I’ve played sport at a decent enough level and have seen international sportsmen lose their nerve, and experienced it directly. Always look at a sportsman’s eyes – you’ll know if he’s lost it. And Sheridan’s expressed real fear and confusion. Scary.
Overall this a powerful and moving piece of theatre. You don’t have to be a rugby fan to enjoy this. Anyone can. The simple set of changing bench, bar table and interview chair tells us instantly what sort of environment we’re in. Further realism is added with Sheridan tossing a ball to and fro as he recounts the progress of games and lighting is used to both expose and to comfort.
High profile sportsmen have come out, some willingly, some just before they were about to be exposed by the press in the “public interest”. Examples include Gareth Thomas (rugby), Justin Fashanu (football), Tom Daley (diving) and Steve Davies (cricket). But it’s still a subject about which much is whispered and where too much intolerance remains.
Why this should be so is hard to understand. Judge people on their skills, not their sexuality, was the heartfelt plea from Hall as he faced up to trial by television on the dreaded comfy sofa of a breakfast chat show. If only life could imitate art on this one.