Crouch Touch Pause Engage – Theatre At Its Very Best

It is clear to see why The Times gave it 5 stars describing it as…’Brilliant. It wrenches the gut and makes the soul sing...’ Time Out proclaim,’The mighty Out of Joint,’ Where as The Guardian writes,’National Theatre Wales have never been afraid to ask what theatre is and what it might be.’  

Photo by Robert Workman

Photo by Robert Workman

The story of International rugby star Gareth Thomas’ struggle with his sexuality and the prospect of The Sun newspaper outing him on the eve of his biggest game, set against another brewing media storm, that of the Bridgend teen suicides, makes for brilliantly clever theatre.

Crouch Touch Pause Engage a co-production between Out of Joint, National Theatre Wales and Arcola Theatre is utterly compelling, from the opening minute, to the final cheer. This is theatre at its very best. Writer Robin Soans has used his documentary verbatim approach – play based on interviews with real people – to create two interwoven narratives, that resonate with each other in dramatic fashion.

The play throws up many shared themes of humanity; themes of trust, commitment and belief in ourselves and each other. There is palpable fear that grips both sides and makes reaching out that much harder: the secrecy and shame surrounding individual acts of self harm: mirroring the closeted life Gareth (known as Alfie to his teammates) tries to maintain. The last thing he wants is to cause pain to his family, to lie to his team mates; to let his country down.

Directed by Max Stafford-Clark, each cast member plays Alfie. The men and the women all play Alfie and not in any sort of obvious way. Whoever it is portraying Alfie at any one time adds another layer of understanding: a nuance of Alfie’s character. They are all Gareth Thomas. Maintaining that sense of character and being able to switch the way they did, without losing any momentum or intensity, just further testament to the talent on stage.

I found my eyes darting from one to the other as I followed the quickfire interaction, scenes merging from across time and place. The jaw-dropping climax at the end of the first half, left me gasping for breath.

Lauren Roberts and Katie Elin-Salt play the Bridgend teens Darcey and Meryl so convincingly, the dialogue between them is alive and dynamic, and while they may each harbour dark thoughts, their relationship is so heartening you can’t help but be utterly charmed by both.

Some of the back and forth between them is just priceless – ‘ A1 fuckin’ special.’ Darcey announces rocking on the floor. I fell in love with her right there. I’m so glad I bought the accompanying book, I can relive all those wonderful lines.

The pace of the dialogue, all spoken in English but with strong Welsh accents, is very noticeable, it has a wonderful lilting rhythm that is an absolute joy to follow.

Particularly the scenes between Gareth’s mam Vonnie and dad Baz. Played by Bethan Witcomb and Rhys ap William, where not only do they constantly end each others’ sentences in the way that couples often do, they speak in unison, showcasing an unerring sense of timing.

There are simply not enough different voices in every day experience.

I had hoped for a little choreography, some representation of the match, the cast didn’t disappoint with staged line outs, completed passes and upon scoring a try they lifted Alfie aloft, recreating the famous Ayatollah Cross celebration. Stirring stuff even if you are not a sports fan.

It was my first visit to The Gulbenkian at Hull University and although a formal theatre space, it felt quite intimate, sight lines were good and even sat in the second tier I felt very involved in the drama. I look forward to being invited back to see more of their programme.

Out of Joint theatre are a new name to me but the accolades describing innovation, imaginative storytelling and boundary pushing pile up, after each outing so definitely a company I’ll be seeking out in future.

Out of Joint’s production of Crouch Touch Pause Engage is currently touring selected theatres throughout Wales and England, until 20 June see Tour Dates. 

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