Homophobia in sport is kicked into touch with Richard Sheridan’s Edinburgh Fringe hit, Odd Shaped Balls, which comes to London later this month.
“His name is Jimmy Hall. He plays with odd shaped balls. So put your bums against the wall, here comes Jimmy Hall…”
Rugby player James Hall has the world at his feet. But when his biggest secret is revealed, his whole life begins to crumble around him, and James must decide if he has the courage not only to be true to himself, but also to be a role model for others.
Odd Shaped Balls, coming to the Old Red Lion Theatre, is a funny and poignant one man show that raises awareness of issues surrounding homosexuality in sport and ultimately asks the question: how would you feel if your sexuality prevented you from playing the sport you loved?’
There is more than a touch of Gareth Thomas’ story in Odd Shaped Balls but it’s a subject that still affects sports people playing in modern day teams.
Deciding the right time to come out can be a tough decision for anyone, but for those in the limelight in can be even more daunting. The decision can be entangled with fears of homophobic abuse and negative reactions from their team-mates.
Says Sheridan: “Odd Shaped Balls began for me almost four years ago, inspired by an incident I witnessed while playing for the university rugby team.
“An openly gay fresher signed up and he trained with us, came on socials and felt like part of the team. But a few months in, his captain and the club president cornered him on a night out and told him not to bother coming back.
“The captain was quickly removed from his position and we moved on as a team, but nothing was done to reach out to our new team-mate and he never came back.
“It wasn’t until I met up with him a couple of months later that I learnt how much it had affected him. He felt feel unwelcome, not just in a team, but in a sport and in a culture. A sport and a culture that I loved because of how accepted it had always made me feel.
“After some research in to the likes of Welsh rugby hero of Union and League, Gareth Thomas, a screenplay titled Odd Shaped Balls was penned.
“In December 2013, the same day Tom Daley uploaded his viral video, I made the decision to take Odd Shaped Balls to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Here it received five star reviews and short-listed for multiple awards.
“The response we got was overwhelming and we regularly had audience members wait to meet us after the show.
“Some were fans of the game and would praise the depiction of the pressures in professional sport, but some gay audience members would talk about how they related to the inner turmoil, the abuse and the struggle for acceptance that comes with being out”.
In a recent study of over 9500 participants, only 1% of lesbian, gay and bi-sexual respondents felt they were fully accepted within sporting culture.
Director Andrew Twyman says: “Odd Shaped Balls doesn’t just confront homophobia in sport, it stands up and shouts, lays bare every nuance of locker-room culture.
“With the overwhelming support rugby star’s Sam Stanley and Keegan Hirst received when they came out last year, as well as the release of the Scottish LGBT Sports Charter last May, now has never been a better time for Odd Shaped Balls”.
Plane Paper Theatre is taking Odd Shaped Balls to the Old Red Lion after a successful run at Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 2015.
They recently produced Don’t Smoke in Bed, at the Finborough Theatre, and are Live Theatre’s Associate Artists for 2016.
Odd Shaped Balls runs at the Old Red Lion Theatre, St John Street, Islington, from May 31-June 25.