'Jumpers for Goalposts' review or 'I think I just fell a little bit in love.'

‘Jumpers for Goalposts’, Tom Wells
Bush Theatre, Thursday 29th November

Barely Athletic football team is going down. Coach Danny is afraid to actually coach, new guy Luke has forgotten the throw-in exists and ‘Beardy’ Geoff refuses to remove his woolly hat. Jumpers for Goalposts unfolds in a crummy changing room in Hull, where an all-gay football team (plus one ‘token straight’ guy) is struggling against the likes of the Lesbian Rovers. It is one of the silliest, funniest and most compassionate plays I’ve seen this year.

The wonderful thing about comic-wunderkid Tom Wells is just how gentle his writing is. Unlike many new(ish) writers, he isn’t trying to shock. There are certainly some dark ideas nestling in here: one of the lads has been the victim of a ‘gay bashing’ and another is dealing with the recent death of his wife. But these sub-plots only flare up occasionally, via a blazingly intense song or a heartfelt monologue.

Most of the action is downright daft, bumbling and bonkers. Andy Rush excels as the exquisitely louche Geoff, who’s more interested in the other football players than the actual football. He slides elegantly about the room, occasionally swooping down into the splits. At one point, his nose is bashed in by a spurned member of the opposition. Geoff presses a can of Tizer up to his face, as tissue paper hangs from his nostrils and his raggedy knees knock together. 

Vivienne Gibbs is gifted some of the best lines as the straight talking, lesbian team ‘cheerleader’. This is a woman so appalled by her team-mate’s efforts that she’s even considering badminton. She chucks a football at Luke; ‘I’ll let that sink in.’ Even when Barely Athletic finally wins a game, it’s only because the other team was ‘drunk and in stilettos’. 

Director James Grieve makes sure the actors don’t labour their punch-lines; we are watching funny characters rather than characters being funny. Grieve also teases out a beautifully awkward dynamic between assistant coach Danny (Jamie Samuel) and librarian Luke (Philip Duguid-McQuillan). The two circle each other nervously; Danny beaming and besotted and Luke stuttering and scampering about like a trapped animal.

When the two finally kiss, Luke spends a good few minutes trapped inside his team-shirt, emblazoned with the words Bridget. He finally wrenches it off, only to reveal a thermal vest underneath. Danny’s reaction is, like the rest of this generous play, straight-forward yet spot on: ‘I think I just fell a bit in love with you.’ I think I did too.