Richard D. Sheridan’s new one-man play tackles homophobia in rugby head-on, from the stuffiness of a testosterone-filled changing room to the bright lights of the pitch. Odd Shaped Balls tells the story of James Hall’s rise in professional rugby and his struggle to work out his sexuality which is thrust ruthlessly into the media spotlight.
It’s a hard-working and accomplished performance from Matthew Marrs, who brings the large cast of characters vividly to life in a series of interactions. The play’s key exchanges are thoughtfully written and expose James’ inner conflict. He is a rugby star and he is also in love with a man, and we feel his pain as he navigates a hostile world with no precedent to follow. There is plenty of humour in the dialogue too, and Marr’s delivery is warm and witty.
The transitions between characters are, for the most part, distinct and easy to follow, with a wide range of well executed accents and mannerisms. Shifting seamlessly from the macho team captain to the softly-spoken girlfriend, he demonstrates his versatility and keeps the audience happily entertained.
The clever set aids the fast-paced storytelling, incorporating a pub, a sweaty changing room, a living room and a rugby pitch all within the small corner space at the Old Red Lion Theatre. It’s an intelligently designed production and the sharp lighting cues help to define the shifts in place and time, despite an unnecessarily confusing structure which doesn’t really add anything to the theatricality of the plot.
Overall, Odd Shaped Balls is a powerful and moving story, sensitively told by the talented Matthew Marrs.
Reviewed by Annabel Mellor
Photo: Luke W. Robson