REVIEW – Odd Shaped Balls

*****

By Danielle Farrpw

Odd Shaped Balls, written by Richard D Sheridan and starring brother Chris Sheridan, is a solo show focused on a rising star rugby player with “a dirty little secret”. Examining the difficulties that player James Hall faces, coming into the media spotlight through his sport and then for his sexuality, it has the grace and intelligence to include varied reactions: strongly positive, strongly negative and various shades between.

Above all, the feelings of Hall himself, his own responses to having a relationship with another man, speak eloquently of a society still trying to find its way to an equal and balanced world of different sexualities, with all that has changed, is changing and still needs to change.

This is a solo show, played out in a few locations well staged with a rugby ball, piece of fake turf, some hooks on a partition, a bench, an office chair, a bar table and sparse, apt costume adjustments. Lighting is generally unobtrusive, supporting the story, and sometimes a stronger presence reflecting internal as well as external situations. The space is well used, and character switching as clear as the story, director Charlotte Chinn’s work with Chris Sheridan seeming a fine match.

Chris Sheridan himself is fully capable of grabbing and keeping our attention throughout, and he provides other characters along the way with both overt and subtle detail, clearly defining people such as the lover, the coach, the team captain and a particularly vociferous team mate, with a brief glimpse of the girlfriend as well. On occasion, eye lines for Hall and his lover seemed a little off, the lover much taller looking down towards Hall than he appear when Hall looks at him. Chris Sheridan’s consummate control and ease with the characters, beautiful to watch throughout, could benefit from touching a little more deeply with raw feelings kept internalised. There is a feeling that this might happen in some performances, for Hall’s pain and vulnerability are clear, but a real physical connection to raw agony – even not obviously shown externally – is a visceral presence that seeps through an audience as well, which did not occur in this performance. Possibly, this is a deliberate choice in the playing and directing, but there is a sense that the material and its performance could affect an audience even more.

Both story and performance are very strong, though, bringing humour and humanity to the tale of a man who seems to have everything to play for, but is constantly blocked by the affect on others and himself of a society that has been unable to accept same-sex attraction for far too long and includes an obsession with getting that next celebrity story.

Odd Shaped Balls is a play for this time, a thoughtful and entertaining look at someone who – not alone – thinks that being a sportsman and being attracted to his own gender are mutually exclusive. It examines how these thoughts are formed, how confirmed and how questioned, and it does so with charm, insight and a strong performance.

4-23 August (not 10, 17), 13:30 (14:20) @ Gryphon @WestEnd

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