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Jumpers for Goalposts, Watford Palace Theatre

Tom Wells

Directed by James Grieve
★★★★
Pros: A superbly well-written, well-acted, and well-designed production.
Cons: While charming, the script occasionally borders on cliché.
Our Verdict: A truly outstanding production with a fine balance of humour and heart.
Courtesy of Watford Palace Theatre
Watford Palace Theatre is on a winning streak in my book – after four visits this year, I’ve not even come close to being disappointed by a single production. The venue strikes again this month, housing the premier run of acclaimed playwright Tom Wells’ new play, Jumpers for Goalposts. The play is both delightfully funny and heartbreakingly bittersweet, romantic and tinged with social anxiety. It’s a truly well-rounded piece of work which will capture your heart and attention.
The play follows the progress of ‘Barely Athletic,’ a struggling team in a queer Sunday afternoon football league. After being denied a place on ‘the lesbian team,’ bossy pub owner Viv recruits her straight, widower brother-in-law and three young gay friends to form a new team. Romance soon blossoms between anxious, shy Luke and collected Danny; the highly energized and congenial Geoff/’Beardy’ deals with the aftermath of a recent hate crime; and Viv and her brother-in-law Joe attempt to face the loss of Joe’s wife and Viv’s sister Julie. There’s plenty of personal junk for each character to wade through during the course of the play, which depicts scenes in the locker room after games throughout the eight weeks of the tournament. Wells’ script does an excellent job, for the most part, of avoiding oversentimentality – the characters are well developed and the script is balanced out beautifully by humour. However the production occasionally dives into cliché, ending on a painfully neat note despite some of the hairy situations we watch the characters struggle with throughout the body of the play.
Even considering some triteness and predictability, the play is truly lovely on all counts. Lucy Osborne’s design and James Grieve’s direction complement each other perfectly – one of my biggest pet-peeves can be sets or designs which impede sightlines or close the audience out of the action, but Greive keeps a wonderfully open stage, with all characters and actions accessible to the audience. This is incredibly important in the case of this play, which features a wildly talented ensemble and performances that should be experienced to the fullest.
The cast as a whole was dynamic and the chemistry between all five was ideal – whether the whole group or fewer featured, all the scenes were electric and heartfelt. The humour and earnestness of the script was well-presented, the comedic timing was top of the line, and rarely did situations get melodramatic; instead, the fantastic development of each individual character demanded empathy. Andy Rush (Geoff) and Philip Duguid-McQuillan (Luke) delivered performances which were particularly spot-on – their quirky characters provided much of the humour, but the actors portrayed each man’s delicacy and depth with care and honesty as well.
Throughout the show, Beardy struggles to come up with the right song to play at an upcoming gay pride event to encompass both the anxiety and strength that defines his community. He rejects the pop-tones of Wham!, refusing to sugarcoat the threat of violence that lingers over the LGBT community, but also wishes his performance to inspire and encourage rather than lament. This seems to sum up the intentions of the production itself – to present a piece of work that celebrates a community, creates a positive air surrounding the people involved, but refuses to altogether ignore the trials and pitfalls they face. Wells, Grieve, and the entire cast and crew did a great job of creating a production that is both warm and loving but equally aware of hardship and pain.
It was a show full of love and life, with excellent elements of production all around and a truly remarkable cast. I left the theatre smiling and can’t encourage our readers enough to visit Watford before Jumpers for Goalposts ends its run!
Please feel free to leave your thoughts and opinions in the comments section below!

Jumpers for Goalposts runs at Watford Palace Theatre until 20th April 2013.
Box Office: 01923 225671 or book online at http://www.watfordpalacetheatre.co.uk/page/jumpers-for-goalposts

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