A good couple of weeks for Hull, the improbably isolated but newly crowned UK City of Culture, culminates in the city’s hottest young playwright Tom Wells breezing into London with this marvellously idiosyncratic comedy.
‘Jumpers for Goalposts’ is a bittersweet but very funny romcom about Barely Athletic, an inept five-aside footie team playing in Hull’s surprisingly competitive amateur gay league. The fact that it hinges on a tremendously awkward romance between two men – Jamie Samuel’s socially inept Danny and Philip Duguid-McQuillan’s even more socially inept Luke – underscores the team’s shared sense of outsiderdom and sets up something of a mid-play plot twist. But for the most part sexuality is refreshingly irrelevant in a comedy that’s as much a loving tribute to the great tradition of British amateurism as anything else.
Each scene in James Grieve’s proudly no frills production is set in Barely Athletic’s dressing room, post-match. As such, the team’s home lives are only ever hinted at: we’re never quite sure why hypercompetitive captain Viv (a brilliantly blunt Vivienne Gibbs) seems to be so frustrated; or exactly what happened to the late wife of the team’s sad sack straight player, Joe (a soulful, subtle Matt Sutton); and why cheeky layabout Beardy Geoff (Andy Rush) only alludes to a preposterously busy sex life.
What binds them together isn’t love of the game, or even – the tyrannical Viv aside – any particular interest in winning. They’re bound by what we see: the sense of community that a team fosters, and Wells’s play is really about what a precious thing that is – precious enough to keep this bunch of bickering misfits competing in this silly league. It’s a heartwarming message, delivered with fine acting, tart humour and judicious northern understatement.
By Andrzej Lukowski