The sexual exploits of premiership footballers rarely remain a secret. Ryan Giggs, David Beckham, Ashley Cole, they’ve all had details of their sex lives splashed across the front pages since finding fame on the field.
But imagine if those affairs were leaked to the press on purpose. Imagine if those affairs were initiated by the players to cover up an even bigger secret. We’d never know, would we?
That’s the premise behind John Donnelly’s new play The Pass, which opened at the Royal Court’s Jerwood Theatre Upstairs on Friday. While also examining the politics of the game and the power of agents to determine how their world-famous clients are portrayed in the media, the play first and foremost offers an in-depth look at homosexuality in the sport.
On the fictional field in The Pass, Jason is the next Gareth Bale. He doesn’t know it at the age of 17, when he and his teammate Ade find themselves sharing a hotel room ahead of the big game that will make one of their careers – and break the other’s – but he certainly knows it several years down the line.
Full of arrogance and superiority, for Tovey’s Jason throwing wide screen TVs off hotel balconies seems like a viable pastime. Just like consuming nearly 10 bottles of Grey Goose vodka between three people constitutes a perfectly normal party.
His is a world of ‘poison pussies’, sex tapes and boundless hotel mini bars, but it is also a world behind which Jason hides his true desires.
Set in three different hotel rooms across a period of 12 years, The Pass charts Jason’s life from an aspiring adolescent through sporting stardom, marriage and fatherhood to the public affairs that are so often associated with high-flying footballers.
But his fame has come at the cost of his personal gratification, as one moment he shared with Ade when he was a teenager has come to determine the rest of his life and left him unable to show who he really is.
Tovey’s gripping performance as Jason is the highlight of the show, finding the right balance between the burning inner turmoil and the forged exterior he constructs for the good of his profession.
Gary Carr is equally compelling as footballer-turned-plumber Ade. Confused by his teammate’s manipulating mind games, he is both vulnerable and resolute as a 29-year-old when he is faced once again with what happened in that hotel room more than a decade ago.
At the final whistle, we have a swift and accomplished offering courtesy of John Tiffany that turns Donnelly’s play about a game of two halves into a hilarious production that is riven with heartbreak.