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A CurtainUp London London Review
The Pass

"I'm an athlete. A warrior. I go out and do battle every week in front of a baying mob. I sell millions in merchandise, I embody people's hopes and dreams, . . . " — Jason
The Pass
Russell Tovey as Jason and Nico Mirallegro as Harry I (Photo: Manuel Harlan)
John Donnelly's play The Pass opens in a hotel room in Bulgaria where two 17 year old professional English footballers are staying before their first match in the first team. Next day is a crucial match because they are competing against each other for the place in the team and only one of them can succeed. Most of their conversation is crude and sexual but amusing and quick witted, lads keeping up the pretence that they are stars in the sack. But as they flirt with their sexuality, their homoerotic attraction to each other is hinted at.

Jason (Russell Tovey) is white, Ade (Gary Carr) is black. Jason teases Ade about his Christianity and his African roots, smearing Nutella on his face and calling himself Babatunde with an African accent. Ade retaliates with shaving cream from the bathroom as he "whites up". They are having fun clowning around with racial stereotypes.

Six years later in a Spanish hotel room, Jason has brought an English lap dancer Lyndsey (Lisa McGrillis) back to his room. Jason is now a successful and famous footballer and targeted by the press. He is married with a child but has something to prove with the girl. There is a twist here I didn't guess and won't reveal. He tells Lyndsey about the things the opposition crowd say to wind up footballers before an important corner or free kick. We get a picture of his life playing for a Portuguese and German club. Jason has learnt the languages and from his conversation, we realise his brains aren't just in his feet.

In the final scene, twelve years after the first, Jason is again staying in a hotel room and has invited Ade to join him along with Harry (Nico Mirallegro) a nineteen year old football fan who works at the hotel. Along with sporting success comes Jason's increasing isolation as he represses and keeps secret his sexuality.

We were told in the press this week how few professional footballers have felt able to declare that they are gay but instead kept it secret. In the final scene Ade is working as a plumber with his own business, but struggling financially having left professional football whereas Jason is rich in monetary terms. Drinking games and prescription drugs lead to wild behaviour involving the 19 year old fan Harry who is star struck as Jason looks for a diversion from his own loneliness.

Raising this production well out of the ordinary is John Tiffany's exciting direction as each scene change is choreographed with symmetry, grace and dramatic pauses, wheeling furniture to the edges of the set and pausing before stacking and exiting. Laura Hopkins' sets are hotel rooms of increasing luxury with frosted glass on the shower room.

The performances are real and convincing. Gary Carr as Ade has integrity and sincerity and Lyndsey is cannier than Jason gives her credit for. I don't know how it was done but Ade definitely looked older in the last scene. Was his acting more mature? Russell Tovey gives the performance of a lifetime, coming of age as an actor in this bittersweet but very physical role. He shows what the outcome is likely to be when you cannot be true to yourself.

This excellent and well constructed play with its incisive writing is sold out but hopefully it will get another life.

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The Pass
Written by John Donnelly
Directed by John Tiffany

Starring: Russell Tovey, Gary Carr, Lisa McGrillis, Nico Mirallegro
Designed by Laura Hopkins
Movement: Eddie Kay
Sound: Carolyn Downing
Lighting: Chahine Yavroyan
Running time: two hours 25 minutes with an interval
Box Office: 020 7565 5000
Booking at the Royal Court to 1st March 2014 but sold out
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 17th January 2014 performance at the Royal Court Jerwood Theatre Upstairs, Sloane Square, London SW1W 8AS (Tube: Sloane Square)

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