Review By Rosie Niven
In a world that seems to have lots of safe and accepting spaces for LGBTQ+ people to embrace their identities, it would be easy to think that a fear of coming out was a thing of the past. However, when John Donnelly wrote The Pass in 2014, there were no openly gay soccer players in the English Premiere League. A culture of rampant homophobia meant that sexuality was often repressed out of fear of threats, loss of sponsors, or even a loss of contract. Fast forward 7 years and this is still a reality for a number of high profile sports stars in the LGBTQ+ community. Why is it then that we continue to support a sporting culture that is riddled with so much harm that athletes are afraid to be who they are?
At the heart of The Pass is Jason (Ben Chapple), a superstar football player that does whatever it takes to stay on the team, even if it means compromising his friendships and his own sense of self. As his fame grows, his disconnect with his identity grows larger until he loses himself entirely under layers of carefully constructed lies to protect his career. The cost of Jason’s success is the core part of who he is, and for the right price, he’ll let every part of it go.
Further highlighting his disconnect from self are the cold, unforgiving hotel rooms that Jason bounces between (well designed by Hamish Elliot), constantly swathed in a rainbow of greys and whites. Matt Cox’s lighting design adds to the isolated feeling, and Daryl Wallace’s sound design brings us jarring moments of Ricky Martin (another star known for repressing his sexual identity).
Chapple is strong as the troubled Jason, seeming to represent the worst parts of the toxic sporting culture: misogynistic, racist, homophobic and violent. His roommate and almost lover Ade is played by Deng Deng, who brings a gentle intimacy to his performance, although at times his reserved character choices make him hard to read. Cassie Howarth shines through the script in her depiction of single mum and table dancer Lyndsey, giving depth to a character that the script glosses over. Tom Rodgers brings some much needed moments of levity in his upbeat portrayal of naive hotel attendant Harry, but an unfortunate joke told causes the character to lose his charm.
With all of Jason’s flaws, it makes it difficult to empathise with him, and having no empathy for the main character means a challenge for the audience to engage entirely with the story. The script doesn’t allow enough moments for us to see how Jason has been victimised by toxic sporting culture, and the moments that are there are glossed over. By the end, with no resolution, it feels as though his slow decline from grace is to be expected. With more finessing of the characters, moments of humanity would have beautifully contrasted with the constant theme of dehumanisation.
Although the narrative of sexual repression for fear of persecution is one that is still incredibly relevant today, what felt really out of touch in The Pass was the choice of language. Racist slurs, AIDS jokes, and a poorly written female character are scattered throughout this work without any visible purpose. Problematic punchlines landed awkwardly in the laps of an uncomfortable audience, and there never seemed to be any commentary on Jason’s toxic character and his behaviours. It seemed the text wanted to reflect that harshness and the toxicity of men’s professional sports without providing any real insight on it or use for it to inform an arc.
The Pass felt as though it lacked a purpose, but more importantly, a spark that kept us engage throughout a 2 and a half hour story. Unfortunately the actors were hit with a hurdle at the beginning of scene 2 in the form of a broken glass that went straight into the bottom of an actor’s foot, stopping the show for 20 minutes. This definitely created a bigger challenge for the team during the first half of the show, but after interval the actors came back with stronger and more focused performances. With a heavier hand from Director Ed Wightman and some proper analysis of the problematic moments in the text, The Pass would have scored numerous goals. But for now, perhaps the team needs a few more training sessions.