Left – Johnathan Peck and Ray Chong Nee. Cover – Paul Denny, Ray Chong Nee, Rory Kelly and Kate Cole. Photos – Jodie Hutchinson.
This sweet play by young UK writer Tom Wells about a queer football team is a treat. Barely Athletic might not be the fittest team around but they’re doing their best to be proud. The story, set in Hull, sees an unpretentious group of five footy players, all very different, members of the GLBT football league, who support each other by becoming deeply connected rather than successful on the field. Kate Cole plays Viv, sportily ambitious publican owner and team manager who soon finds that managing her team members’ emotions is her biggest challenge, and that wins are all about friendship and connections rather than trophies. The stakes are gently revealed as a love story between two unconfident personalities: Luke (Rory Kelly) is young and inexperienced while his would-be lover Danny (Johnathan Peck) is struggling with a secret. Joe (Paul Denny) is the token straight, Viv’s bereaved brother in law. They are both grieving the loss of a wife and a sister in different ways. Geoff (Ray Chong Nee on loan from Bell Shakespeare) is a busker and wannabe gay musical icon searching for the perfect song for the pride celebrations. The cast all do a fine job with their regional accents.
A lack of cynicism pervades the story; the play gets away with genuinely nice characters and a softened kind of dramatic tension. You do believe in how the various characters care for one another. An accessible, naturalistic and well-structured piece, Jumpers is not breaking any theatrical boundaries or trying to be edgy, rather it’s one of those adorable plays where you want to join the cast on stage and become part of it. ‘Charming’ carries superficial connotations but this production is truly charming, light and accessible yet with depth. There’s much to like and nothing is unsatisfying despite the narrative being one of small drama and the emotional trajectory of the individuals relatively limited. Direction by Tom Healey is outstanding with pacing keeping things cracking where they could get too warm and fuzzy. The play could easily come across as sentimental but it doesn’t, due to masterful direction and its strong cast. It’s Ray Chong Nee’s night though, it has to be said, as marvelous as the rest of the cast is, he glows as Geoff, bringing a sincerity and innocence to his character that makes you fall in love. He even gets away with singing ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ at the finale, turning the too-familiar soccer chant into a beacon for gay pride.
Subtext is delicate, it’s there but it’s slight. You don’t find out a lot about the characters beyond the important things, namely their struggles; however, you always get the sense they have a life outside the changing room, they’ve not simply sprung into existence on stage. Their camaderie and warmth as they support each other through make for a beguiling production. Jumpers for Goalposts is funny and it’s nice, and there’s nothing wrong with that.
Red Stitch Actors Theatre presents
Jumpers for Goalposts
by Tom Wells
Directed by Tom Healey
Venue: Red Stitch Actors Theatre | Rear 2 Chapel St, St Kilda
Dates: 19 November – 20 December
Tickets: $20 – $39
Bookings: (03) 9533 8083 | www.redstitch.net