Odd Shaped Balls (theSpace, 17 – 29 Aug : 19.15 : 50 mins)

“Powerful, energetic and frank”

Editorial Rating: 4 Stars

The story follows professional rugby player James Hall as he comes to terms with his own sexual identity and deal with getting “outed” in the media. We see him as his club’s star player – someone who really needs rugby in his life – as they get promoted into the Premiership at the start of the play. We follow some very touching relationships he has with various characters – his coach, his father, his girlfriend and his teammates – all played by Matthew Marrs.

It’s a very pacey piece, packed with short scenes and snippets of conversations, which enables the audience to see the range of people in Hall’s life, and their reactions and relationships to him. While in certain sections of the play this works very well in communicating the franticness going on in Hall’s head and not knowing who to turn to, at times it also becomes quite confusing as to who he’s talking to, what scene we’re in, and how much time has lapsed in between them.

It’s certainly a commanding and masterful performance from Matthew Marrs, who manages to convey all the individual characters, as well as drive the performance with passion and vigour. He effortlessly captures the angst of Hall’s dilemma, showing a great range of emotion, while also being very grounded. What I liked about the character was that he seemed very real and that dialogue flowed naturally, without having been over-polished. My favourite of the other characters was Hall’s plain-speaking Welsh teammate who, at one point, very brazenly described “jackpot threesomes”, with hilarious effect.

While a very commendable and powerful concept for a piece, the writing and structure did let it down somewhat, as did, arguably, the decision to make this a one-man show. For almost every conversation throughout this piece, Marrs played both sides, which I feel was a somewhat lazy device in communicating the narrative. I think it would have been more powerful for at least some of these to have been shown from one side only, to allow us to connect more with the character on show, rather than the constant flip between two or three different characters played by the same actor. Alternatively, having one or more supporting actors for Marrs to play off could have simplified some of the scenes where there was a lot of back and forth.

In saying all that, this was a terrific show – powerful, energetic and frank, with a very important message.

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Reviewer: Steve Griffin (Seen 28 August)

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