“Sometimes you feel tired. Or angry. Sometimes you get horny”
Football is a game of two halves, The Pass is a play of two halves and between the words and the images, this review definitely made up of two halves. Set in the high-stakes world of celebrity football, John Donnelly’s play spreads over three scenes set over twelve years, starting with young bucks Jason and Ade on the cusp of making their first team debuts in a Champions League dead rubber in Bulgaria. But in their shared hotel room the night before, it seems like they might be interested in sharing more than just tactics.
But though homosexuality in football may be the headline grabber, especially in these post-Hitzlsperger times, Donnelly is just as interested in exploring the corrosive effects that accompanies the leap into superstardom for the lucky few. As the play jumps forward seven years, and then another five, we see Jason’s career goes stratospheric whilst Ade’s languishes, but professional success comes at personal cost – especially in the strait-laced world of the beautiful game – as we see just how far Jason is willing to go to protect his position.
John Tiffany directs a vibrantly fluid production upstairs at the Royal Court, which features a fair bit of his customary movement style in the scene changes but, as the pictures indicate, contains a lot of more of Russell Tovey’s flesh – this is very much a feast for the eyes if that’s your kind of thing. But the writing also has much to commend it – some viciously dark humour early on feels entirely age-appropriate and Jason’s steely-eyed determination feels rooted in a place of great truth (indeed to date, no current professional footballer is openly gay).
The third act may lose a little of the intensity as it strains to reap the seeds sown earlier but the antics in the various hotel rooms always remain compelling. There’s excellent support from Lisa McGrillis as a chatty dancer and Nico Mirallegro as a stoner-like bellhop who’s definitely up for the craic. But the show belongs to Tovey’s excellent performance as Jason, simultaneously clear-eyed and conflicted, and Gary Carr as his erstwhile teammate Ade who has gotten closer to happiness yet still finds himself a victim of the seductive yet poisonous glow embodied in his pal.