Jumpers For Goalposts

Being part of the British Commonwealth, it’s natural that we’re going to know a lot about the motherland, and being the sports crazy city Melbourne is, of course we know how even more mad the British are for football (i.e. soccer). Red Stitch are well and truly aware of this, and will soon be launching their latest production Jumpers For Goalposts, a romantic sports comedy about a gay, lesbian and transsexual football team. I was lucky enough to speak to both the play’s director Tom Healey and its writer Tom Welles to tell us about this very British story.

What inspired you to create a play such like Jumpers For Goalposts?

Tom Healey (TH): The thing I like most about Jumpers, apart from the fact that it’s really, really funny, is that it places gay and lesbian characters front and centre. It’s not really an “issue” play, although issues certainly come up. It’s more of a traditional romcom with a very queer twist. As a gay gentleman of a certain age, I can remember a time – not so far away – where this would have been impossible. I get really moved at how far we have all come in the last 20 years or so. Apart from one or two ridiculously out-moded politicians, gay marriage is a reality in most people’s minds. Queer parents, queer teachers, queer everything is just part of everyday life. And the relief of that is extreme for those of us who grew up under the veil of secrecy. Jumpers is an incredibly affirming piece in this way, and has genuine wide appeal – it’s a love story that everyone can realte to, and a story of building community. Empathy, tolerance and a healthy sense of humour is the recipe for good living and Jumpers has it in spades.

Tom Welles (TW): I wanted to write a rom com set in Hull, where I’m from, which is a lovely place to be from, but quite an unlikely place to set a romcom. And I wanted to write about a group of gay characters who were scruffy and funny and full of heart and not very good at football.

What football team do you support?

TH: Okay, another closet! I don’t have a team. I just don’t. I love the game and really enjoy watching the odd match, but I just can’t get into this hysteria about who supports what. It’s complicated – flashbacks of humiliating failure on the field at high school are part of this picture, but also it seems so bloated and corporate. I really lost it after Carlton turned out to have been “cheating” with the salary cap in their glory years. They seemed our best hope for fair play and then…not so much. I respect the tradition, I love its community spirit, but I do think it’s been co-opted by big business. There I’ve said it! One of the reasons I love Jumpers is that it’s set around a five-a-side amateur comp – football for the love of it. That’s a spirit I can relate to. The title refers to the English habit of chucking a couple of jumpers on the grass and making them goalposts. You don’t need a sponsor to play football at that level – or performance enhancing drugs either.

TW: I don’t really support anyone. I grew up in a house full of Man United supporters but it never rubbed off. I was a bit too bookish to get into it. But Hull City are doing really well these days, and that makes me proud.

Do either of you follow AFL? How do you feel it compares to British football?

TH: Vaguely. I do after all live in Melbourne… I think the thing with English football is that it is like AFL, except that it’s been taken up by the whole country. The struggle here with league, and to a far lesser extent Union, for supremacy means that we don’t have the same national sense of the game. But they are equally exciting games I reckon. Rugby league just sucks. Sorry people, but someone has to say it. My much-loved NSW grandfather used to refer to AFL as ‘aerial pingpong’. He’s dead now, but I still enjoy the thought that AFL has become so dominant. Sorry papa!

TW: I don’t know anything about AFL, I’m afraid.

What can audiences expect from Jumpers For Goalposts?

TH: It’s a gay romcom! There’s love, romance and some hot kissing. There are a heap of laughs and some gorgeous singing. At its heart, it’s really about how to build a community – something that the LGBTQ community knows a great deal about. Love is here in all its forms – comic, romantic, tragic and silly. What is so great about the play is that Tom Wells has created a piece that absolutely everybody can relate to. Everyone has had a crush, everyone has been unbearably nervous in front of their intended, everyone has been devastated by the loss of love. It’s all here in this play, wrapped up in a cuddly blanket of big laughs and an incredibly generous and optimistic heart.

TW: Rubbish football, some jokes about Enya and a song at the end.

The team in the play is called Barely Athletic. I assume there will be a lot of laughs at the characters’ lack of footy playing skills?

TH: You betcha! That’s why they asked me to direct it I think…

TW: They’re definitely underdogs, but they have their moments.

Being from Australia, I have no idea how popular a gay, lesbian and transsexual football league is in the UK. How well received is the league over there?

TW: The league in the play is fictional. It is just a group of four local pub teams playing five-a-side on a Sunday afternoon, for fun. But there are lots of real gay football teams playing in different leagues in Britain – some take it very seriously, some definitely don’t. I think being part of a team is a really good thing, even if you’re not a very good team. It’s really a story about sticking by your mates and struggling a bit with life and falling in love – I reckon that all happens in Australia too.

How do you feel a story about English football, in a gay, lesbian and transsexual league no less, will go with an Australian audience?

TH: As I said before, it’s so universal. The English setting and the LGTBQ context are just trappings to give a whopping great story a foundation. These kinds of stories work in hundreds of contexts – warring Italian families (Romeo and Juliet), middle class Londoners (Notting Hill), ordinary Americans (When Harry Met Sally). The thing is, we all feel this stuff, we’ve all been through it and it’s life-affirming and beautiful to believe in love. That’s what Jumpers really celebrates.

How are you finding working for Red Stitch?

TH: I love the company. I did American playwright Neil LaBute’s modern classic The Shape of Things with the company in 2007 and it remains one of my favourite productions. I really wish that they had more funding – not really for selfish reasons, more for the health of the city’s theatre culture. They are a bunch of tireless, incredibly dedicated artists who work really hard and who believe passionately in what they do.

TW: I haven’t done any actual work, but I’m really happy they’re doing the play.

What has this experience been like for the actors?

TH: Mmmm… Perhaps you should ask them… I’ve been giving them a pretty thorough workout. I think they’re loving it actually. These are great roles and enormous fun to play and they are certainly going in, all guns blazing. Look forward to some very fine work in this one – that’s my tip with a week to go.

TW: I haven’t been in rehearsal so I don’t know but hopefully they’re having fun.

Originally published here at milkbarmag.com on Monday 17 November 2014

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