Odd Shaped Balls at the Old Red Lion Theatre
Whilst presumably kicking back with a cup of tea watching the F1 highlights, the world of sport occasionally gets a knock on the door from the world of cinema or theatre, inviting them to entwine. But why is it that sport has become a go-to arena in which to set emotional David vs Goliath-esque stories? One answer could be that in life sport acts as a microcosm of passion, emotion, victory and defeat. Perhaps more importantly though, the competitive element is representative of our daily lives. Sport measures success, in concrete tables and statistics, therefore it allows heroes to succeed and villains to crash and burn, whilst eliminating any form of subjectivity. As they say: “the league table never lies”.
One thing that sport has never done very well, however, is homosexuality. Even if it appears to be dealing with it, it’s doing so on its own bloke-ish terms, with nervous chuckles and template broadcasting dialect. This is what the latest production by Plane Paper Theatre addresses. Odd Shaped Balls is a one-man show in which Mathew Marrs plays confused rugby prodigy Jimmy Hall, and everyone he encounters. Hiding his real self has – up to a point – helped him progress in his career, but news gets out of his relationship with another man, and everything changes. He battles with self-acceptance and his role model status as an emerging young rugby star.
Marrs puts in a convincing performance as young Jimmy Hall. The swift pace and sudden scene changes all add to the tension and mixed emotion that he’s experiencing. Everything is played out on a very authentic set design – you can almost smell the sweat and mud from the changing room. Dialogue taps into the modern sporting world, with frequent reference to social media, but the colourful language and pub banter are caught halfway between a pre-watershed version and a bold ultra-real portrayal of how rugby players actually communicate.
The see-sawing of realism begins to make sense towards the end. At a press conference, Jimmy conducts himself not as a robot programmed to say the right thing, but as Jimmy. He speaks so earnestly about what he has been going through, shattering the illusion of the impassive sportsman. Strangely it comes across as fantasy, despite the fact all we are seeing is someone being open. It’s a fantasy that seems so attainable, but for whatever reason, still eludes sport.
Odd Shaped Balls is on at the Old Red Lion Theatre from 31st May until 25th June, for further information or to book visit here.