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Crouch, Touch, Pause, Engage

Scene from Crouch, Touch, Pause, Engage. Photo: Robert Workman Scene from National Theatre Wales' Crouch, Touch, Pause, Engage earlier this year. NTW is a beneficiary of Arts Council of Wales' new spending round. Photo: Robert Workman

It took an emotional crisis before the former Wales rugby captain Gareth “Alfie” Thomas was able to come out as gay to his wife – at the time he was married to his childhood sweetheart – his family, his teammates and fans. He was the first professional rugby player to do so while still playing the game.

Robin Soans’ verbatim play – an Out of Joint and National Theatre of Wales co-production arriving at the Arcola at the end of a UK tour – does not pull back from showing Thomas at his lowest point, fearing that he’d be outed by the tabloids, standing on a cliff edge wishing things would end. But it also shows the support he received, the love and acceptance.

In truth this feels a bit like two plays uncertainly stitched together, as Soans also interweaves the stories of a number of teenagers from Thomas’ hometown of Bridgend, where a number of young people took their lives in quick succession. These interviews never feel fully integrated into the piece, but rather feel like the beginning of a bigger project about social erosion and exclusion.

Max Stafford-Clark’s production is, fittingly, a team effort, with all six cast members taking turns to don Thomas’ red jersey and become him. It’s an effective device, enhanced by their strength as performers, and while the two strands of the play never entirely gel together it doesn’t detract from the quiet power of the piece, the funny, warm-hearted and rousing way in which it tells Thomas’ story.

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Warm-hearted and rousing verbatim account of the coming out of former Wales rugby captain Gareth Thomas