What in god’s name is a gay musical?
My exact words when being told about the most recent show playing at the Above the Stag Theatre.
But woe be me and my patently ignorant mindset, as Above the Stag has spent the best part of nine years staging some of the best and most original works aimed at the LGBT community. Here’s hoping that He Shoots! He Scores! is as witty as its title suggests!
Joe (Jamie Barwood) is a likable northern lad on his way down to London in order to join a football term. But he ignore the advice his ex-boyfriend Charlie (Richard Watkins) gives him: Don’t join a gay team.
So Joe finds himself playing for the Hercules Harriers. A football team that is not only the gayest team in London, but also has a success record so disastrous it makes Eddie the Eagle look like Usain Bolt.
Meanwhile, Tayzr (Duncan Burt) has decided to enter the team into a 5-a-side gay football tournament in the sunny neighbourhood of Spain. But a little something is lost in translation and they soon realise they’re the only gay team there.
Together, the five squad members must deal with ex-boyfriends, jealous girlfriends, cheap alcohol, and an incredibly straight Scandinavian, as they try not to make fools out of themselves on the football pitch.
Before entering the auditorium there was a little worry in me that, even though He Shoots! He Scores! was a musical, it would still be a dark exploration of homophobia within the world of football.
But such worries were banished almost immediately on seeing David Shields’ colourful set design. With only a minimal of props and so much AstroTurf that it literally scales the walls, Shields’ deserves full credit for effortlessly portraying locations as varied as a gay bar, a gay changing room, and a (possibly gay) train station.
Yes, there is an abundance of gay stereotypes. But the utter charm brought across by the actors, as well as Bradfield & Hooper’s Carry On-esque script, makes such ideas far less hackneyed than they might originally seem.
Such charm is only elevated by the excellent work done by casting director, Harry Blumenau. This is one play heavily dependent on the interaction of its ensemble, and all eight of these fine fellows are fantastically energetic, taking flamboyancy to a whole new level in states of undress that would make a stripper blush.
From the heart-felt struggle between Barwood’s Joe and Watkin’s Charlie, to the rising sense of inadequacy felt by Cooper-Millar’s Pete, as well as the blossoming relationship between Cannon’s Matthias and Mann’s Liam; each actor brings pathos and fearlessness to every sequence.
Though the phrase scene-stealer has become a tad overused in the past few years, in the case of Duncan Burt there is no other expression that could be more apt. Prancing around the stage in his jockstrap and Pokemon encrusted t-shirt, Burt’s larger than life hilarity is worth the price of admission alone.
Of course, a musical lives and dies on the strength of its songs; and lyricist Jon Bradfield has gone beyond the call. From the laugh-out-loud “Gays can’t play Football”, to the beautiful duet of “Give me a Kiss”; each song is an absolute hoot and demands repeat listening.
And in spite of my previously mentioned apprehension of exploring the dark side of gay football, I did appreciate the fact that the show does take the time to address the difficulties of being openly gay in a sport that values masculinity above almost all else.
I have worked in the theatre industry for just over a decade, and in that time I have learned that a great many people feel that only the very best of theatre is shown within the few square miles of London’s Theatreland.
Assuming that assertion is true, then He Shoots! He Scores! doesn’t deserve to be performed on the West End.
It DEMANDS to be performed on the West End.
He Shoot! He Scores! runs until August 26th 2017 with a 7:30pm performance Tues-Sat, and a 6:00pm performance on Sundays.
Tickets can be booked here.
Produced by Peter Bull
Book – Jon Bradfield & Martin Hooper
Music & Lyrics – Jon Bradfield
Director – Robert McWhir
Musical Director and Arranger- Simon David
Choreographer – Carole Todd
Set and Costume Design – David Shield
Sponsored by The Original Tour
Joe – Jamie Barwood
Tayzr – Duncan Burt
Dom / Matthias – Andrew Cannon
Pete – Harry Cooper-Millar
Will – Danny Couto
Frazer / Jase / Marcus – Joey Goodwin
Liam – Tom Mann
Charlie – Richard Watkins