‘Odd Shaped Balls’: tackling homophobia in sport head-on, with a measure of success

Odd-Shaped Balls

It’s no easy task, being the only actor on stage and knowing that the audience’s full attention is on you, with no hiding place. It’s safe to say, though, that Matthew Marrs manages it with aplomb in ‘Odd Shaped Balls’, a one-man show that stole the headlines at last year’s Edinburgh Fringe Festival and has had a highly successful run up and down the UK since then.

Now showing at Islington’s Old Red Lion Theatre, this slightly reworked version of Richard Sheridan’s 60-minute play takes a cold hard look at the issues of homophobia and sexuality in sport and the often adverse effects of intrusive media attention. Confidently switchng from character to character (and displaying an impressive range of accents) we see Matthew as rugby player James Hall run the full gamut of emotions: bewilderment, denial, fear, self-loathing and sheer utter fury, all the while having to deal with his broken-hearted girlfriend, embattled club manager and less-than-supportive colleagues.

60 minutes is not a long period of time to examine a subject that, by all accounts, is still pretty much taboo in rugby and many other sports (after all, how many openly-gay footballers can you name?) – but there’s no doubt that writing and acting such as this can help start much-needed dialogues. What shines through from this gem of a production more than anything is that when all is said and done, progress may have been made but much more still needs to be done.

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