Australia loves sport. It turns teams into families, players into warriors, and games into wars. And, as much as some people use sport for escapism, the industry has a long history of perpetuating, ignoring, or failing to engage adequately with global concerns of racism, homophobia, and toxic masculinity. The Pass flips the script, using elite sport as the backdrop to riffle around in these issues and their intersections with success, sacrifice, and authenticity.
Structured in three parts across three hotel rooms and 12 years, John Donnelly’s script follows UK footballer Jason (Ben Chapple) through the rise and fall of his career. The three characters who surround him, his best friend and rival Ade (Deng Deng), a hook-up/publicity stunt prop Lyndsey (Cassie Howarth), and an unwitting fan Harry (Tom Rodgers), all come to represent the things Jason has lost or sacrificed to reach the top of fame and power. As the conversations play out and scenes slip through Jason’s fingers, it’s like watching him break off bits of himself: his sincerity, his integrity, and his humanity. And in the end, for what?
Direction from Ed Wightman is razor sharp, balancing the slimy performativity of wealth against quick wit along a knife’s edge. None of these characters are comforting. They’ve made bad choices, faced disappointment and failure, and seem desperate for hope but their messy, unpredictable negotiations of and with each other are meaty and complicated and true.
The three slick, anonymous hotel rooms designed by Hamish Elliot provided the perfect atmosphere for denial and avoidance. The lighting design by Matt Cox nodded to the bright stadium lighting of football pitches as well as the carelessness of neon dance floors. In the extended final scene of the second half, the lighting frequently cut in mid-conversation before action resumed again moments later. While interrupting the flow of Jason’s ultimate unravelling, this design was disorienting, possibly to mimic Jason’s inebriated mental state, recreating metaphorical or literal blackouts in his control of himself. This predicts dire consequences for Jason who has lost his career, family, friends, and self-control, all of which were built upon half-truths and clever distractions hiding an authentic self he still can’t quite look in the eye.
The performances in this production were exceptional. Fast and fresh with complex understandings of their characters in and out of the scene. Chapple’s Jason was glossy and untouchable behind a wall of banter; he both rankles and garners enormous pity. Opposite him, Deng’s Ade felt raw like a fresh wound and Howarth’s brash openness was refreshing. Even Rodgers as the cringey football fanboy was infinitely watchable as they all attempted to out-manoeuvre each other, prove who’s in control, come out on top.
Despite its close connection to professional football, The Pass asks universal questions about success, authenticity, and what it is you want to be left with in the end. Like anything built on unstable foundations, you can never know when it’s all going to come crashing down.
The Pass is running at the Seymour Centre from February 11th – March 6th as part of the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras
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