By Tom Wells. New Theatre, Newtown (NSW). Feb 7 – Mar 4, 2023.
Reviewed : February 12, 2023
What a combination! Tom Wells, Alice Livingstone and a talented cast! Put them together on a Tom Bannerman-designed set redolent of the small, smelly dressing rooms hidden under the old grandstand of every suburban oval and you have a fine production of a very skilfully written play. In fact, Jumpers for Goalposts is a very fitting salute to New Theatre’s 29 years of theatre-based support of Mardi Gras and everything it entails.
The play is about … well … a local football team meeting in that grotty change room after their Sunday matches, but it’s far more than that, as Livingstone explains beautifully in her program notes:
“Jumpers for Goalposts is much more than just a story about a pretty hopeless bunch of soccer players getting together over six Sundays to kick a ball around. It celebrates the special friendships that can exist between gay men and lesbians, it explores how the public expectation of how masculinity is displayed can often mask vulnerability and longing, and it shows how five ordinary people, male and female, gay and straight, find camaraderie, fulfilment and love in each other’s company. The true meaning of community lies at the heart of this play.”
Tom Wells is a clever writer. The characters he creates are very real and become even more real and lovable with each scene – in this case, after each Sunday’s match! They aren’t good players – in fact one of them has never played before, but their player/coach Viv, is desperate for them to do better than the lesbian team for which she used to play.
Livingstone has skilfully and gently guided the cast through the revelations that are made in each successive scene, allowing them to find the frailties and strengths that Wells has inferred in the dialogue. Hesitance, pause, unfinished sentences and silences tell more in this play than the words themselves. And this cast knows just how to use them – and the humour that Wells has built into every scene. That – and the way the characters develop – makes this play very special.
It is Viv who drives the team to keep going. She and her wife run the local pub, and Viv would really like to have the trophy – that she has donated! – behind the bar. Emma Louise plays Viv with assertive verve, making her pushy, vibrant, energetic and totally engaging. Louise realises the scope of the role, how each scene shows yet another facet of Viv’s passion – and compassion.
Nick Curnow plays Joe –‘the only straight’ in the team – and Curnow finds every possible huff, puff and twinge that Joe’s out-of-conditioned body experiences each Sunday. Despite his pain, Joe is determined not to let Viv down – nor to let her be too hard on the rest of the team. He is gentle, supportive – and understanding – the sort of ‘straight’ that the world needs to see more often.
Isaac Broadbent is Danny, young, open and keen to develop a relationship with Luke (Sam Martin) who works at the local library. He is quietly delighted when Luke joins the team following a notice advertising for players that Sam has surreptitiously posted on the library notice board. The relationship that Wells builds for these two young men is touching – and Livingstone has allowed it to develop so that it seems natural and endearing. Broadbent makes Danny eager but, for reasons of his own, just a little reticent. Martin matches that reticence with cautious timidity and tentative self-doubt. Together they bring Danny and Luke into a gentle, sweet relationship that is beautiful to watch.
Beardy Geoff is played with mischievous effervescence by Jared Stephenson. Stephenson is tall, and sporting a Costa Georgiadis-style beard and long, curly hair, he makes Beardy Geoff gangly and just a little over-the-top as he spurs the others to make the most of the fun they could have together. His Geoff is funny, aware, empathetic, loved as much by the audience as he is by his teammates.
New Theatre scores lots of goals with this gentle, compassionate play. In their dingy little changeroom the characters reach through social barriers to show that life should be good, can be good – and is full of stories that, as Tom Wells says are “worth hearing, full of spirit and mischief.”
Congratulations Alice Livingstone. Your team is on a winner to get that trophy.