Viv is angry and Joe is sad. Danny likes Luke and Geoff needs to find his song. An ingeniously simple six-scene structure takes us through the season of an LGBT five-a-side football league. We root for Barely Athletic, a club set up by the somewhat stroppy lesbian Viv, played with a mix of aggression and sadness by the brilliantly scenery-chewing Vivienne Gibbs. Having been kicked out of the Lesbian Rovers, she assembles a team to help her win a coveted trophy.
Her brother-in-law and the token straight of the team Joe (Matt Sutton) is literally an everyday Joe, slightly flabby and out-of-shape. Both are united in their grief about Joe's recently deceased wife. They are joined by Andy Rush's cheeky Geoff – a devil-may-care sort of guy who's always quick with a quip but after a vicious attack that left him physically scarred is haunted by some demons of his own. He's trying to find a song to sing at Gay Pride but he needs to suss out some things beforehand.
At the centre of the play is the love story between assistant coach Danny (Jamie Samuel) and the new arrival Luke. When it comes to matters of football or love Danny's self-confidence is somewhat hampered. Although smitten by the innocent, awkward but good-hearted Luke (an amusing and touching performance from Philip Duguid-McQuillan), he needs to come to terms with some uncomfortable responsibilities. The cast are all completely at home with the rhythm of the Northern dialect which gives the strong ensemble performance a rough charm.
Designer Lucy Osborne brings just the right kind of greyness to the set: a changing room that reeks of functionality, sweat and abandoned dreams. Although we never actually leave this room it is due to James Grieve's unfussy and to the point direction that the tension never drops.
Unvoiced anger and fear are at the heart of a lot of the struggles. The players' performance at weekly matches is closely connected to how they are coping with their personal problems. The weighty issues in the story are handled with surprising levity and situation comedy. So these sad clowns play, argue, win, lose and over time somewhat unwittingly help each other find their ways. None of the sentiments and ideas presented are necessarily new: team spirit helps overcome adversity; winning's not all that counts; true love conquers old demons.
Luckily, the pairing of real topical issues with a sense of innocence and genuine love for its characters steer the production clear of any triteness or over-simplification. Tom Wells' writing brings an affirmative spin to the way modern gay life in the UK is portrayed. Apparently, life is a lot like football. You tackle your problems, block your fears, and score points when you get the chance. When you think about it for a minute it becomes a lot less trite than it sounds.