Odd Shaped Balls

'The last 12 months have been very difficult for me. I became concerned with my mental health. Because of this I am going to step away from the game at this time. Thank you all for your understanding and support.' That’s not a line from Odd Shaped Balls, though it very easily could be. It’s Michael Sam, the first openly gay player to be drafted by a side in the NFL, the Montreal Alouettes. This play is rooted in the reality of many people’s lives and experiences.

Odd Shaped Balls is not just a stunning play; it’s a precious gift to humanity.

'His name is Jimmy Hall. He plays with odd shaped balls. So put your bums against the wall, here comes Jimmy Hall…' That line is from the play. It’s the chant of the fans at the first game after James Hall has been outed, or rather been reported as possibly having had a relationship with a man. This is not what James had in mind for his life. He’s the Chiltern Coats’ star player. They’ve just been promoted and he has Claire, his steady girlfriend whom he really loves. In just a few hours his world has been turned upside down and the press are onto him. He has no choice but to come clean; but what future sort of future does he have now?

The neatly constructed set has discrete areas, yet overall it possess almost a doll’s house's unity of design and is fully integrated into the story. Centre stage is the team’s dressing room. In one corner there’s a turfed area from where Jim takes his conversions and diagonally opposite is the bar where he drinks with his mates. Tucked into the other corner is a comfortable chair.

The chair is where Matthew Marrs sits when playing Jim’s dad. Dad has a distinctively ponderous voice, but it’s the way he sits down that is a mark of Matthew’s attention to detail. He doesn’t just sit, but lowers himself into the chair with a twist of the body and that movement is the same every time. A post-show tweet reads, 'congrats on nailing the Welsh accent', a fine tribute from a Welshman, but people from Scotland and the north of England could be sending similar compliments.

It’s not just the accents that impress, but the vocal agility of adjusting tone and timbre as he switches from one character to another, especially in fast conversations between two people. His voice adapts effortlessly from yelling on the terraces to soft expressions of love, all with appropriate facial expressions. His stunning performance is supported throughout by perfectly timed sound effects and well-devised lighting, while the production as a whole is a triumph for director Andy Twyman, producer Ellie Claughton and Plane Paper Theatre.

Without Richard Sheridan’s evocative writing, none of this would have been possible. He researched Gareth Thomas’ story, but says the stimulus arose ‘when an openly gay fresher from my rugby team was cornered by his captain on a night out, and was told not to bother returning. It wasn’t until later I realised the impact; he felt feel unwelcome, not just in a team, but in a sport and in a culture’. Odd Shaped Balls is not just a stunning play; it’s a precious gift to humanity.

Reviews by Richard Beck

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The Blurb

Odd Shaped Balls tells the story of James Hall, a promising rugby player whose life is turned upside down when he is outed as gay. With his life crumbling down around him, does James have the courage to not only be true to himself, but also be a role model to others? It's a story that needs to be told, a story that asks; how you would feel if your sexuality prevented you from playing the sport you love? ***** (BroadwayBaby.com).

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