Although rooted in football, STUD at this year’s VAULT Festival is easily accessible to non-sports enthusiasts: eye-opening, convincing yet blunt.
Being a self-declared “non-football enthusiast”, attending a show with football at its heart seems like something only a sadist would do. But although STUD ensures football is its key theme, the real action is about something far more universal: passion.
The play revolves around the bleak reality that “there are currently no openly gay or bi players at any level of male professional football in Britain”. Convincingly portrayed by Joey Phillips, we follow late teenager Tom at the brink of his football career. His prospects to play for his dream team are looking good, but he’s slowly learning what it means to be a career-driven gay man in a ferociously ‘heterosexual’ industry.
Liam Bergin plays every other character in the story – ranging from the successful yet unhappy closeted football player, to the gambling addict father and sexist friend. It’s clear which character Bergin has given the most attention and thought to – but unfortunately the majority of your sympathy for the Father is undercut by the pillow stuffed under his shirt as a budget fat suit. Bergin has a natural charm and is easy to watch though, which ultimately makes you forgive any budget-driven decisions.
STUD’s sound designer, Nick Manning’s, soundscapes are well executed and help to propel the story along, but unfortunately the production features some song choices that seem a little incoherent. Aside from the fact some lyrics match what the character might have been going through, they unfortunately just don’t serve too much of a purpose.
Although the lighting designer Rajiv Pattani clearly had a tricky job (working with a fixed rig in festival style infamously punishes the lighting designer), the design supported the performance by clearly establishing intimacy – and the opposite – with ease.
Having both actors in Adidas football gear, an astroturf floor and changing room bench centrestage throughout were also nice touches from set & costume designer Anna Kezia Williams, reminding us that no matter where Tom is, the only thing on his mind is football. The pillow being used as a fat-suit was the only bung note in this area, as this was not a common theme throughout and it seemed to put a barricade between us and the character.
Writer & director Paloma Oakenfold paints an eye-opening world with a very wide brush. Having found such an excellent topic to explore, I was disappointed by the lack of depth in all the character’s except Tom. The ‘sexist friend’ seemed to be throwing up cliché quotes that you would find deep in the comments of article’s posted by THE LAD BIBLE. A father who gambles everything on his son’s success, then beats up a footballer because he “didn’t save the goals & was outside a gay club”, seemed a little incongruous to me.
The use of movement in this production was also unfortunately a little questionable. It seemed that each sequence (used in-between scenes) was trying to declare to the audience what the character was going through at the time. The issue, for me, was that this had already just been said, in the scene that’d just ended. If the actors were masters in movement, I could understand making the most of this expertise – but unfortunately I didn’t quite have confidence in the validity of these movements here. If Oakenfold does see these sections as pivotal to the play (or intended audience effect), one would hope for more conviction in their execution.