Max Stafford-Clark, who brought us Pitcairn at the Globe last year, directs a controversial new play coming to London’s Arcola Theatre in May. In partnership with National Theatre Wales and the much-celebrated Out of Joint Theatre company, playwright Robin Soan tells the story of professional rugby player Gareth Thomas who caused a stir in the sporting world when he came out as gay in 2009.
Crouch, Touch, Pause, Engage uses verbatim extracts from the flurry of media that greeted Thomas's revelation, creating drama from the real life reactions. From Gareth Thomas's personal journey, the play broadens its scope to look at issues affecting his Welsh hometown, Bridgend.
The tale of the rugby star's grappling with sexuality is juxtaposed with a hard-hitting look at the suicide scandal that rocked Bridgend, and how both Thomas and his town as a whole fought to hold their heads high amidst media scrutiny.
Verbatim theatre (plays with text based on the documented words of real people) is a minefield for writers and directors. There's a delicate balance between creating an overarching plot and portraying true language; the audience response on press night proved that Crouch, Touch, Pause, Engage is a play which treads that line beautifully.
The cast work well as an ensemble, all multi-roling throughout and sharing the role of Thomas (on an entirely gender neutral basis). We were particularly charmed by Lauren Roberts' portrayal of Darcey, a schoolgirl who hears voices telling her to harm herself. With such emotive material, it would be easy for an actor to lapse in to sentimentality, but Roberts fought to find the humour and honesty in her character to great and very moving effect.
You needn’t know much about rugby to enjoy this almost classically epic tale of a hero’s struggle with his identity: a Welsh rugby legend’s battle to defend himself again the prejudice of sports fans and players alike on the world stage. The Arcola Theatre has always been known for its commitment to gay rights, they even have their own LGBT theatre company, so it is a particularly apt venue for Crouch, Touch, Pause, Engage's London transfer.
A couple of factors let the production down slightly – the clunky passing on of the rugby ball as actors took on the role of Thomas (the overlapping speech was more than enough) and the occasional moments of unnecessary exposition jarred with what was otherwise a slickly choreographed and well-scripted new play.
With press night on the day of the Irish referendum on gay marriage, the issues faced by the likes of Thomas resonate loudly, but what this play shows most strongly is the importance of community in supporting both the famous and the overlooked alike. So whether or not you're a passionate sports fan, the production is sure to leave you with plenty to think about.
|What||Crouch, Touch, Pause, Engage, Arcola Theatre|
|Where||Arcola Theatre, 24 Ashwin Street , London, E8 3DL | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Highbury & Islington (underground)|
20 May 15 – 20 Jun 15, 7:30 PM – 10:00 PM
|Website||Click here to book via the Arcola|