Odd Shaped Balls**** (Old Red Lion Theatre)

Posted: June 3, 2016 in Theatre

Matthew Mars in Odd Shaped Balls (c) Luke W. Robson (5)This review was originally written for The Reviews Hun: http://www.thereviewshub.com

The world of macho sport may possibly be one of the last remaining places where an anachronistic character such as James Hall can still be found. He is a homophobic homosexual. Richard D Sheridan’s one-hour monologue, first seen at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, tackles the thorny issue of homophobia in sport with insight, compassion and humour. Centring on Rugby Union, there are similarities in the story to the real life experiences of Gareth Thomas, as told in Robin Soans’ play Crouch, Pause, Touch, Engage, seen widely across the country last year, but the fictional James is at the very beginning of his career, facing what he believes could be years of ostracism and crowd taunting ahead of him. One of the lads in a newly promoted Premiership club, James boozes with the team, spits out expletives and sexist remarks routinely and laughs along at queer bashing, but he keeps secret that his relationship with one of his mates had gone beyond mere friendship. The focal points of his life are the changing room and the pub, as shown neatly in Luke W Robson’s set. It helps the production that Matthew Marrs has the bulked-up look of a real Rugby player, but the strength of his sympathetic performance as James lies not in his appearance but in the conflicting emotions that he conveys. How can he come out to the world when he cannot even come out to himself? The traditions of the sport that he considers to be his family conspire against James in his efforts to resolve the conundrum and he clutches to one of his sport’s odd shaped balls as if it is his only friend. In the event, the initial decisions are made for James when a post on Twitter goes viral and newspapers pick up on the story. He now has to tell his team coach, his father and, most painfully, his girlfriend, Clare. Marrs voices all the characters. He also makes us believe that James genuinely loves Clare, but his growing realisation that this love is something apart from his sexuality gives the play its most poignant moments. Andrew Twyman’s assured direction brings out all the pathos and ironiy in Sheridan’s writing. Apart from mentioning vile trolls on Twitter, we hear of no villains. If James is made to feel uncomfortable by others, their behaviour and comments are borne out of a lack of understanding and not out of malice. Many outsiders may regard it as curious that the old order still prevails so strongly in modern day sporting culture, but, as James finds his way forward, Sheridan leaves us with the optimistic thought that even this world could be on the cusp of change. R

Performance date: 2 June 2016

Image: Luke W Robson

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