Pros: An incredible set for a witty, fast-paced and hard hitting performance.
Cons: There is so much crammed into the hour that it loses some of its integrity.
I may have mentioned this before, but I love a pub theatre. It’s like a pocket-sized, tangible piece of the magic that all theatre should reach for. What you’re going to get when you enter the space isn’t the clear cut victory you come to expect from the larger and longer established National or West End venues. You can mark the point of transformation into the theatrical world far more easily because you’ve had to pass through several barriers to get there.
In a pub theatre you always have to go through the pub first; through the football chants and the beer stench, up some crooked stairs and into an unlikely room above where lies a hidden and ready stomping ground for new and exciting theatre. They enjoy fewer boundaries and exploit their license to thrill through entertainment. Of these special pub theatres, the Old Red Lion is my long standing favourite. Fact. There is a maintained standard and its housing of Odd Shaped Balls is testament to that standard.
Odd Shaped Balls is, on paper, everything a decent fringe show should be. One hour, one man, funny, fast paced and meaningful. A rugby team has just made it into the professional sphere, the success of which lies on the pretty meaty shoulders of star player James Hall (played by Matthew Marrs). Once success arrives the magnifying glass of public scrutiny shortly follows. Hall finds the elements of his life that he is struggling to make sense of himself become open to the public. Namely, his homosexuality, that for some completely unfathomable reason is still sub-surface in professional sport.
For the claustrophobia of these perceptions to be made overt Marrs played in excess of six characters. Swiftly he glided from his father, to his teammate, boyfriend, girlfriend, coach, and PR machine. So swiftly did he glide, in fact, that at times it was too much. Marrs was a one-man dynamo as he steadfastly alternated between roles, and yet it still felt rushed and indistinct between characters, despite an impressive array of accents and tones. An hour is a short time in theatre, and sometimes slightly less is more.
Talking of cramming, they have sure crammed a monster of a set into that pokey attic above the pub. A set so detailed that it is flawless. The room was transformed into multiple locations so smoothly that I barely noticed they weren’t one and the same. Marr sprinted from section to section and with each sprint we visited a pub, a locker room, a lounge and even a rugby pitch. An entire world has been created and yet they made it look simple.
This is a good solid hour of entertainment that has real contemporary relevance plus personal meaning for athletes in the public eye. It makes you think just as much as it makes you laugh, but it is busy, busier than necessary.
Author: Richard D. Sheridan
Director: Andrew Twyman
Producer: Plane Paper Theatre
Booking Until: 25 June 2016
Box Office: 0844 412 4307
Booking Link: http://www.oldredliontheatre.co.uk/odd-shaped-balls.html