Odd Shaped Balls (theSpace, 17 – 29 Aug : 19.15 : 50 mins)

“Powerful, energetic and frank”

Editorial Rating: 4 Stars

The story follows professional rugby player James Hall as he comes to terms with his own sexual identity and deal with getting “outed” in the media. We see him as his club’s star player – someone who really needs rugby in his life – as they get promoted into the Premiership at the start of the play. We follow some very touching relationships he has with various characters – his coach, his father, his girlfriend and his teammates – all played by Matthew Marrs.

It’s a very pacey piece, packed with short scenes and snippets of conversations, which enables the audience to see the range of people in Hall’s life, and their reactions and relationships to him. While in certain sections of the play this works very well in communicating the franticness going on in Hall’s head and not knowing who to turn to, at times it also becomes quite confusing as to who he’s talking to, what scene we’re in, and how much time has lapsed in between them.

It’s certainly a commanding and masterful performance from Matthew Marrs, who manages to convey all the individual characters, as well as drive the performance with passion and vigour. He effortlessly captures the angst of Hall’s dilemma, showing a great range of emotion, while also being very grounded. What I liked about the character was that he seemed very real and that dialogue flowed naturally, without having been over-polished. My favourite of the other characters was Hall’s plain-speaking Welsh teammate who, at one point, very brazenly described “jackpot threesomes”, with hilarious effect.

While a very commendable and powerful concept for a piece, the writing and structure did let it down somewhat, as did, arguably, the decision to make this a one-man show. For almost every conversation throughout this piece, Marrs played both sides, which I feel was a somewhat lazy device in communicating the narrative. I think it would have been more powerful for at least some of these to have been shown from one side only, to allow us to connect more with the character on show, rather than the constant flip between two or three different characters played by the same actor. Alternatively, having one or more supporting actors for Marrs to play off could have simplified some of the scenes where there was a lot of back and forth.

In saying all that, this was a terrific show – powerful, energetic and frank, with a very important message.

Star (blue)Star (blue)Star (blue)Star (blue)

Reviewer: Steve Griffin (Seen 28 August)

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ErictheFred (Assembly Roxy, 8-30 Aug : 21.45 : 55 mins)

“Lynam is very expressive and engaging, oozing with energy and charisma”

Editorial Rating: 3 Stars

This show is an insight into the life of a performer whose memories still haunt him, and he begins to envision what could have been. It’s a fairly simple concept, which to me is a bit too drawn out and unoriginal, and I would have liked a few more twists or developments to take the piece somewhere new.

There’s no dialogue – it’s just actor Chris Lynam alone with a menagerie of props and projections. He begins standing on stage dressed as a ballet dancer, and in frustration he tears off his costume and throws it away. Then, as if decreed from above, a new costume flies in, which he puts on, and transforms himself into a clown for the rest of the performance. It was never made particularly clear how or why this transformation took place, but as the show progressed, it seemed to become an unimportant detail.

Throughout this performance Lynam is very expressive and engaging, oozing with energy and charisma, and from very early on we are drawn in to his world and visions. Through the twists and turns he suffers, the clown’s physicality and facial expressions are strong enough to portray each emotion and it is a very capable performance.

What makes the show stand out is the interaction with various technical elements. The whole show is seen from behind a projection screen, onto which various scenes and “thoughts” are projected throughout. In addition, there is a vast array of props which enter and exit of their own accord, adding to the sense of mysticism and imagination.
At the end of the show there are two shock moments (which I won’t spoil), that add a fresh dimension to what until then had become a quite tired and monotonous format. It’s a shame moments like these did not come in sooner to give the piece more variety and sense of surprise.

To me, the problem with shows that have a high reliance on technical aspects, especially at the Fringe, is that one never feels quite at ease that everything will go to plan. And while nothing major went wrong in this performance, there were numerous occasions when there was an air of hope as opposed to confidence that the right thing would fly in and fly out at the right time, which prevented me from becoming fully absorbed in the work. But perhaps towards the end of the run these details will be more ironed out.

Overall, a very strong solo performance, but I was left feeling a little bit with the sense of “So What?”.

Star (blue)Star (blue)Star (blue)

Reviewer: Steve Griffin  (Seen 8 August)

Visit the Assembly Roxy archive.