There is a particular style of play that I call ‘YOU’LL WAKE THE BABY Theatre’. These plays are ‘well made’, usually British (although Americans and Australians imitate the style frequently), excessively wordy and, whatever other plot they lay over the top – be it aliens, mental illness, sport or spies – at their centre is always a deeply depressing heterosexual relationship. The best examples involve couples arguing in shouted whispers: QUIET! YOU’LL WAKE THE BABY! IT TOOK HOURS TO GET THE BABY TO SLEEP! YOU DON’T EVEN CARE ABOUT THE BABY! LOOK! NOW YOU’VE WOKEN THE BABY! NOW I’LL HAVE TO PUT THE BABY BACK TO SLEEP!
And know that in these plays, there will never be a moment when someone brings out a flushed-cheeked, bleary-eyed child from the bedroom cooing “look whose woken up” because in these plays, babies are not people. They are an extra layer of entrapment. They are added pressure. They are screaming bundles of ‘raising the stakes’.
I have begun on a tangent. The point I should actually be trying to make is that often ‘well-made plays’ slip into clichés because they are generic. At best, they are an exercise in plot rather than humanity and at worst, they aim to deliver ‘more of the same’ to punters for whom ‘more of the same’ makes for a good night out. They do not further our understanding of human connection because they stick to the stereotypes. They re-tread the same ground again and again and the baby sleeps on.
Jumpers for Goalposts is a ‘well-made play’, British, wordy, unremarkable in style, humble in content and it is an utter delight. So why does it work so well? It is a truism in writing that, if you want to make something have a wide appeal, you must make it specific rather than generic. Jumpers for Goalposts is the story of a team competing in an amateur ‘just for laughs’ LGBTQI football league in Hull. The playwright, Tom Wells, and Red Stitch’s production (directed by Tom Healey) have made this story personal, human, intimate and instantly relatable to their largely straight Australian audience.
The writing is beautiful, witty, self-deprecating, complex and incredibly sweet. (And actors, there be audition monologues a-plenty.) At every turn Wells works to make the story small and intimate, which only makes its emotional impact grow. What the writing begins, the performances bring home. The characterisation is detailed, sensitive and at times, utterly heartbreaking: my theatre date for the night teared up multiple times but they only got me once because I’m a hardcore motherfucker. That said, when Luke (Rory Kelly) and Danny (Johnathan Peck) kissed for the first time, I found myself clutching at my heart. The actors performed so truthfully that I felt instant recognition; a sense that I had kissed that kiss before. I remembered the delight of first contact, the incredulity that it is even happening and those beautiful tumbling emotions that fluctuate between sheer terror and grinning the grin of an ecstatic idiot. It was the kind of performance that instantly conjures nostalgia for those days of ‘firsts’: first touch, first kiss, first hands under shirts, first fuck, first mind-blowing terror that perhaps this feeling in your chest might be more than lust.
Beyond the skill of the writing and performances, Jumpers for Goalposts speaks with an urgency that many plays of this genre lack. Every day steps are made towards Equality. It seems that each month another country moves to legalise same-sex marriage (Finland being the latest to join the ranks) and politicians and organisations continue to incrementally work towards making their communities a safer place for LGBTQI residents. In some places. We live in a time where the safety and quality of life of minority groups is still very dependent on the location of the individual. To be a gay man in Hull is very different to being a gay man in London, Tokyo, Moscow, Abuja, Kampala, San Francisco or Toowomba. I’ve no doubt being a trans-person here in Melbourne still sees you face challenges to your safety, dignity, self-esteem and sense of self. In country Victoria it varies town to town.
What plays like Jumpers for Goalposts are able to do is to record this moment in time and speak to where their own community is at in their journey towards equality. I mean, this story comes at a time when you can have an LGBTQI football league in Hull but some of your players still carry scars from gay bashings. HIV is something that makes one adapt their life rather than prepare for its end and yet there is still a veil of ignorance when it comes to its effects on love and sex. This is a time of transition for this community and for the world. Theatre like this can make our epoch personal and real. It can make the specific, little stories of individuals part of a global experience and part of our communal heritage.
We are Buffy’s cookie dough. Things are still difficult, sometimes dangerous but holyfuckingshit we’ve come a long way. The fight that brought us here, the bravery of its soldiers and hope for the future of our global community is something worth pausing to remember. Something worth pride.
Jumpers for Goalposts runs until December 20th. Go and see it. Darn good theatre.