The cast of Crouch, Touch, Pause Engage. Photograph: Robert Workman

Tackling discrimination: Crouch, Touch, Pause Engage. Photograph: Robert Workman

In 2007 the Welsh rugby legend Gareth Thomas published the first of his two autobiographies. In the introduction he writes “As soon as I was made captain of Wales, I pledged to be honest to myself and honest with everyone around me.”

Two years later he came out as gay and has since called the book “one big lie from beginning to end”.

Thomas’s journey is re-told in Crouch, Touch, Pause, Engage, a new play by Robin Soans created by Out of Joint Theatre Company and the National Theatre of Wales. Using text from real-life interviews, the play sees six actors play Thomas, who is known by his childhood nickname ‘Alfie’, with each taking their turn to sport the Welsh jersey and catch the rugby ball, which indicates a change of actor.

Thomas says he wasn’t scared that people would reject him because of his sexuality, but because “suddenly you turn around and tell them you’ve been lying to them for twenty years”.

As is so often the case, his best friend Compo had known all along. But his wife and parents hadn’t – and nor had his fans.

But it’s not just a play about Thomas. As he suffers the taunts and jeers of the crowd, and his secret gradually becomes public knowledge, we also hear the testimony of a young girl whose own taunts and jeers drove her to edge of the void.

Darcy, played with tenderness and humour by Lauren Roberts, is a character created from interviews with two suicide attempt survivors from Bridgend, South Wales.

Both parties live to fight another day and even meet to share their experiences, Alfie confessing: “There’s so much of me I see in you.”

The show comes to a close with a demonstration of the scrum – the inspiration for the title – the forwards huddling together before crouching to engage their opponents.

The pressure and excitement of various big match encounters punctuate the story as it unfolds and we are frequently presented with a huge gladiator of a man – strong and brave, and totally unequipped for the labours that face him.

Crouch, Touch, Pause, Engage is at the Arcola Theatre, 24 Ashwin Street, E8 3DL until 20 June.
arcolatheatre.co.uk

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