#Tweetingit – 4**** Gay man playing it straight to earn a living as a rugby player; sad but true. Thought provoking study of a taboo that just won’t die
Why would a man have to hide his sexuality to earn a living in his chosen profession? And why does homophobia thrive in sport when other work environments dismiss it as a non-issue? These are just some of the matters examined in Odd Shaped Balls, an excellent one man show starring Matthew Marrs at the Old Red Lion. It tells the story of Jimmy Hall, star
player of the recently promoted Chiltern Falcons. Jimmy is looking forward to the new season and testing himself against the cream of rugby union opposition. However, a storm is brewing that will change his life beyond all recognition. Jimmy lives with Claire, his long term girlfriend but also has a secret lover called Dom. Jimmy is on the verge of being outed as gay and the story going viral on social media. How will people react; are his club and team mates going support him? The fans may well crucify him and what about his sponsors, will he be commercially less viable? Can he reconcile his feelings towards Claire and Dom; is it possible to love two people at the same time, perhaps there is a dividing line between affection and desire?
All of the above is examined in a tightly packed 60 minute monologue where Matthew Marrs relates conversations with Claire, Dom, coach Aiden Quinn, the club chairman, team mates Greenie and Jonesie and his ex-rugby playing father. The lights periodically dim as recordings break the story down in sensational tabloid style news reports. The macho world of rugby rocked by golden boy outed as gay, from hero to zero in the blink of an eye. The parallels with Welsh rugby legend Gareth Thomas are obvious; but with one huge difference, Gareth came out as gay a year before his retirement; Jimmy was outed as gay by a third party just as his career was taking off. These simple facts strike at the heart of the matter. Gareth Thomas never felt able to come out because he feared the repercussions and didn’t want to be known only as a gay rugby player. That decision was taken away from Jimmy and the emotional fall out is handled with sensitivity and honesty by author Richard D. Sheridan. There were occasions when Matthew Marrs barely paused for breath, which made the story difficult to follow, particularly when he jumped into flashback mode. Having said that, Matthew displayed an impressive range of regional accents including Scottish, Welsh, Mancunian and polite home counties when he was Jimmy.
The play raises some valid issues that sport hasn’t begun to tackle on any meaningful level. Curiously, racism is fought with boundless enthusiasm but homophobia has been left to quietly fester in a dark corner even though it’s just as harmful; perhaps it’s easier for a player to hide his sexuality but his race is more visible and impossible to avoid. Jimmy’s story seems to imply he lived a lie just so he could pursue a career in rugby. Was Claire part of that deception giving him an air of convention, thereby silencing the gossips; would Jimmy have been with her at all if he was a bank manager or builder? It becomes a fascinating study of masculinity in the most manly of sports and how people’s reactions could shock and surprise. Will things ever change for gay sports men and women? Frankly I doubt it, particularly where rugby and football is concerned – not that a player’s sexuality should matter to anyone, but then again, theory and reality are often strangers in a world that is far from perfect.
Booking until: 25 June 2016
Author: Richard D. Sheridan
Director: Andrew Twyman
Producer: Ellie Claughton/Paper Plane Theatre
Box Office: 0844 412 4307