PREJUDICE AND THE PREMIERSHIP: A GAY FOOTBALL STORY
As gay shame and secrecy gradually fade from British life, one of the last frontiers is professional football. We know from tragedies like Justin Fashanu’s and from the mixed reception to the courage of Hitzlsperger that there are still minds to be won. Theatre does well to weigh in: Rob Ward and Martin Jameson’s solo play (Jameson directs, Ward performs) actually predated THE PASS on the same topic at the Royal Court, having run in Manchester. Yet they were told by marketeers that it was only fit for a “niche, difficult-to-access audience”. Since young men in incalculable numbers – here and abroad – adore Premiership players and take a cue from their public face, it seems to me not niche at all but something more like urgent.
So Ward, all fit, crop-haired macho ferocity, tells his story as gay Kyle: an ardent fan , out to his family and straight friends but also, unbeknownst to any of them, working as an escort – a rent boy – for a shadowy unseen pimp called Vince. His grumpy, pragmatic defiance about this is nicely drawn: maybe if his Dad was less hostile (“You can’t be happy, being what you are”) he would have accepted the proffered job in the family business. But he’s doing fine, repelled at times but resigned to it, taking eighty quid for an hour. But a real relationship threatens to develop: the client who wants him exclusively is a Premiership star from the hated rival team. There is a scabrously funny moment in their first encounter when Kyle is asked to have sex with him wearing the enemy shirt. “I’ve got to f— the fellow whose goal robs my team of two points??”
But the two passions are reconciled for a time, as Kyle falls in love and becomes a secret “mistress”, kept in a flat with a big telly and a posh coffee machine, The secrecy remains corrosive: “socialite” blondes are hired to massage a hetero image for the unseen footballer. Kyle’s friends find out that he’s a “WAG” but stick with him: a splendid exchange has him admitting the escort work. “I .. I don’t fix shops for me uncle”. It meets the resigned reply : “I suppose I should be surprised. But you always were shit at woodwork.”
There is rudeness, laddish machismo and tenderness: Jameson, who writes for Holby City and knows how to push the buttons, offers alternative endings to the affair, one happy and one less so. But the curious parallel that sticks in my mind is with the story of Dickens and his mistress Ellen Tiernan in The Invisible Woman. When they were in a train crash, the celebrity author would not be seen tending her or admit they were travelling together. Here it’s a car crash, and exactly the same thing happens. Unacknowledged love: timeless and terrible.
Box office 0207 287 2875 to 28 March
Touring to June: awayfromhometheplay.com