Writer and Director: Paloma Oakenfold
Reviewer: Richard Maguire
The Vault Festival has now reached its halfway point, and, so far, has proved to be the place to see exciting new writing. The Festival is also hosting some courageous shows concerned with gay men in sport. Two weeks ago we had Gypsy Queen, which explored the relationship between two gay boxers, and now in Stud we have a very touching romance between two footballers.
Tom is at the start of his football career, and he’s got the chance to try out for Chelsea. Signing up for Chelsea would solve other problems too; it would help to pay off his father’s gambling debts. Since Tom’s mother walked out on them, Tom and his father are finding it difficult to make ends meet. But when Tom meets Adam in the changing room, his life changes.
Adam is at the end of his football career. He will finish the season with Rovers and then retire and then come out. He knows he can’t come out while he’s still playing professionally, but he’s fed up suppressing his sexuality. He wants to live freely, and when he meets Tom in the changing room, this desire to live on his own terms becomes even stronger.
Writer Paloma Oakenfold packs a good deal into this 60-minute play, but it never feels rushed, and the relationship between the two men is genuinely affecting. This is helped by the quality of the acting especially from Liam Bergin who plays Adam, along with a few other roles. Bergin, who is perhaps best known for playing Danny Mitchell in EastEnders, shines here. As Tom’s dad, he is lazy, pot-bellied and bitter, but as Adam he’s foolish and innocent, pushing back his hair in disbelief that he might have a future with Tom, his eyes sparkling with expectation. Joey Phillips as Tom is very good too, getting the mix of teenage inexperience and cynicism just right.
The action on the astroturfed stage is punctuated by short dance pieces, which echo training exercises or possibly even moves on a dance floor. These interludes directed by Natasha Wort fit very well here, bringing a physicality to the story, and they look striking under Rajiv Pattani’s effective lights.
In 2018 there are still no openly gay or bi male footballers in the professional game, but this show allows us to imagine that things could change. While sometimes too bright-eyed for its own good, Stud is full of hope for the future. It really hits the back of the net.
Runs until 18 February 2018 | Image: Contributed