Fringe theatres may love monologues because they are usually cheap to stage, but they can be one of the most difficult forms of theatre to get right. They rely on a script that tells a story vividly, an actor that can hold an audience enthralled and a perfect fusion of the two. Many who saw Grounded last year may have thought it as good as monologues can get, but here is one to challenge it. It is performed by Rob Ward, the co-writer with Martin Jameson who also directs. Ward plays Kyle, an avid football supporter from a working class background who works as a male escort in an unnamed Northern city (let’s call it Liverpool). In the course of his work, he meets a prominent Premier League footballer and then forms an uneasy relationship with him. The issues surrounding gay participants in professional football and other sports are highly topical and, in the theatre, The Pass, seen recently at the Royal court, highlighted the dilemmas facing the players; this play concerns itself primarily with the collateral damage which a secretly gay footballer may leave in his wake. However, this is not a simple story of an innocent used by a superstar and then cast aside; we see that both characters are victims of conflicts in their lives – the footballer is torn between being true to what nature has made him and the possibility of public humiliation and potential loss of earnings, whilst Kyle treads uncertainly between the lifestyle which he has adopted and a family that only partially accepts who he is. As a result, both have become users of others, one for carnal pleasures, the other for financial gain and it is the expression of Kyle’s growing understanding that there should be more than this to relationships that is the triumph of the play. Ward’s animated performance is little short of phenomenal, progressing from violent football yob and callous exploiter of his clients to a wounded lover, he carries every stage of the play with total conviction. Gripping, truthful, brutal, tender and utterly relevant, rarely has an hour in a theatre passed so quickly.
Performance date: 22 March 2014