The Bush theatre’s auditorium may have been filled with the fumes of freshly applied paint last night but that was the only thing fresh about it, with a perfectly replicated grotty changing room the centrepiece, complete with all its mud-stained tiles and graffitied charm.
It is here that once a week – as in changing rooms all over the country every Sunday morning, come rain or shine – the characters in Tom Wells’ new comedy Jumpers For Goalposts stream after another disastrous attempt climbing up the results table of a five-aside league in Hull.
Pessimistically called Barely Athletic, and playing similarly convivially named teams Man City – not short for Manchester – Tranny United, who are likely to turn up wearing stilettos as football socks, and The Lesbian Rovers, it may not be the Champions League, but that doesn’t stop their hot-headed leader Viv, played with bossy aplomb by Vivienne Gibbs, offering trophy incentives and regular beratings in her quest for local glory.
If football fills you with about the same excitement as bleeding your radiators, please bear with me. As someone whose excitement for Championship Manager ended swiftly after realising you couldn’t pick the colour of your team’s socks, I am happy to assure you that, while amateur footballers will no doubt feel affection for the cast’s mismatched uniforms – they’re called uniforms, right? – and muddied knees, Wells’ hilarious and tear-jerking piece is more about finding a joie de vivre than a joie de volleying.
Evoking the warmth and familiarity that TV sitcoms from Gavin And Stacy to Miranda have won the hearts of the masses with, Wells demonstrates the same observant wit and ability to tread the line between heart-breaking and heart-warming that won him critical acclaim with his Bush theatre debut, 2011’s The Kitchen Sink. It’s a magic – and previously award-winning – formula that, once again, sweeps you up in its cosy embrace for the entirety of its 90 minute run.
James Grieve’s delicate direction, which milks every awkward moment with cringe worthy results, is complemented by a cast that balance emotive performances with physical comedy. Philip Duguid-McQuillan as the anxiety-ridden, twitching Luke takes the lead in this respect, delivering the character’s heartfelt and unintentionally hilarious self-deprecating lines with a believable – so believable, in fact, you’d like to cover your eyes at points in solidarity with his frequent humiliations – wide-eyed naivety.
In contrast, his fellow teammate Beardy is a romantic sexual liability, played by Andy Rush as a hippy lothario in florescent pick socks who revels in witnessing the worst flirting known to man that regularly takes place between the never-been-kissed Luke and fellow teammate Danny (Jamie Samuel), the latter stealing scenes with his sensitive and naturalistic performance.
Jumpers For Goalposts may have about as much edge as a Digestive biscuit, but in his romantic and life-affirming short-but-sweet snapshot of a team tackling life on and off the pitch, Wells has created a thing of loveliness that leaves you ready to face the world anew.