I have to confess that the visual feast of last night's trip to the theatre has been a little distracting. I'm not immune to a fine male form running around the stage in just pants and there is plenty of time to admire in John Donnelly's new play The Pass. Russell Tovey who plays footballer Jason doesn't wear much more than a pair of Calvin Kleins for half of its two hour and 20 minutes, including interval, running time.
Through three scenes, set in three different hotel rooms over a twelve year period we follow Jason's career from rookie 17-year-old player to end-of-career football superstar and what he does or doesn't do to get there. Key to this is his relationship with his friend Ade (Gary Carr).
The play opens with the two sharing a hotel room the night before a big game, neither can sleep with the anticipation. Tomorrow could be a turning point in their careers for good or bad as their contracts are coming to an end. But underneath the banter there is a hint of sexual tension. What ultimately happens that night doesn't become clear until the end of the play and is revelatory in more ways than one.
What is obvious as Jason's story plays out is how corrupting fame and and the pursuit of success becomes for him. In the second hotel scene he springs a honey-trap and talks of the impact it could have on his earnings through endorsements. Ultimately he sacrifices family to preserve his image and quieten rumours about his sexuality.
"I'm an athlete. A warrior. I go out and do battle every week in front of a baying mob."
Jason is often seen working out and is certainly not shy about showing off his abs to Lyndsey (Lisa McGrillis), the woman sent to trap him. The astroturf flooring of the set is a constant reminder that he is playing a game.
Ogling aside, The Pass is a refreshingly contemporary play, with a dialogue that is sharp and witty. It raises questions about the intoxication of fame from those who become idolised to the fans and the story hungry media. And while some of the football references went over my head, the psychology of playing was fascinating.
The physical performances from the two leads add an infectious energy and it was no surprise to see Tovey bouncing around at the curtain call. This was interesting and entertaining, cleverly staged and well worth a watch (you can listen too... when you are not too busy watching).
Couple of goodies, I think. John Tiffany who directed this also directed Mr W in Mercury Fur. And Russell Tovey was in His Dark Materials at the National Theatre in which Mr W had a small part back at the dawn of his career.