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There’s a line spoken towards the end of the play that pretty much sums up Jumpers for Goalposts, the latest production by Lancaster University Theatre Group. It comes from the character of Geoff (aka Beardy), “The thing about us is we’re f***ing good losers”. This line nicely summarises the sensitivity and the humour which makes Tom Wells’ comedy such a pleasure to watch.
Jumpers revolves around a 5-a-side football team in an LGBT league, Barely Athletic, this already gives an indication of where a lot of the play’s humour derives from. The five team members make up the shows cast and we immediately get on board with all of their quirks that we grow to love as the narrative progresses. The thing that really impressed me about LUTG’s version of the play is their handling and approach of the subject matter. A play about gay people participating in football might seem like an area for cheap jokes, turning the script into something of a much more farcical nature. Directors Luke McDonnell and Joe Maddocks don’t do this, instead they have directed their actors and the physical humour in a way where we manage to sympathise with the characters and recognise the human traits in them instead of turning them into stereotypes. The humour in the play nicely alleviates the more sensitive and serious elements of the drama, and is executed with razor sharp wit and delivery from an impressive array of performances.
The performances were arguably the strongest element of the production, helped nicely by the minimalist production design, which resembled an actual changing room, five minutes into the play you felt like you were in there with the characters. Although this could be described as an ensemble piece, each performance stood on its own and all carried their own merits. Though I must say the chemistry between the cast was also very good. One of the narrative strands concerned the out of shape, recently widowed Joe and his sister-in-law Viv, played by Liam Wells and Abbie Jones respectively. The two characters contrast in terms of personality, with Viv’s passionate and sometimes ferocious approach to coaching her team and Joe’s down played ‘token straight’ presence gives a nice dynamic to this particular story. Both dealing with the grief over losing their beloved, the two come together and find closure in each other’s company which culminates in a warm and loving ambiance that you come to expect from this type of drama.
The other stage ‘pair’ is Danny (Brad Goss) and Luke (Josh Utting), who create the play’s love story. The more tender scenes in the play come from their performances. The thing I really enjoyed about these parts of the play is that despite all the hysterical hijinks that Jumpers has to offer it never shies away from showing us real pain that these characters can go through. This is what sums up what’s so good about Danny and Luke’s story, it felt real, the writing and the performing go hand in hand to give us conversations that feel like real conversations about relationships between two young conflicted lovers. The two actors perform this scene with beautiful sensitivity.
The last member of the team is Geoff, a character where most of the laugh out loud moments come from. Geoff is brought to life by a stand out performance by Greg Walker who’s comic timing and delivery is excellent. Geoff acts like the mediator of the group, and thus the mediator of the drama in essence. He doesn’t take the football seriously and often comes out with crude and irreverent lines but the character is so well rounded and is so well played by Walker, you can feel that there’s genuine heart in what he is saying. There are times where he performs musical numbers for the group, and I must confess Walkers vocal and guitar skills leave a bit to be desired, but because the performance and the character is so strong it’s almost welcome as it fits into Geoff’s ‘I don’t give a damn, I’m happy’ philosophy.
Ultimately not a masterpiece and nothing too ground breaking but it doesn’t have to be. Jumpers has enough humour and heart to entertain anybody who sees it. The entire cast and crew executed the piece in a wonderfully charming fashion with skilful direction, great visuals and five performances that are sure to put a lump in your throat as well as have you in hysterics.