‘Whose back is the hairiest?
… whose crack is the scariest?’
Above the Stag’s latest musical He Shoots! He Scores! shows us the adventures of country boy Joe (Jamie Barwood) and a London-based gay football team as they travel to Spain to compete in a major tournament…which turns out not to be quite as gay as they initially thought. Whilst competing in the matches, some of the boys have other things on their minds: Liam (Tom Mann) is chasing Scandanavian straight boy Matthias (Andrew Cannon), Tayzr (Duncan Burt) is coming up with the team’s new name and fashion statements (‘Club Tropicana Drinks F.C. branded on pop pink t-shirts) and Pete (Harry Cooper-Millar) is just looking for another hook up on Grindr. Meanwhile, old flames are sparking between Joe and ex-boyfriend Charlie (Richard Watkins). It’s a bit like a mashup between Bend it Like Beckham and Priscilla: just swap the Australian outback for Spain and throw in a handful of shirtless men and you’ve got it.
The book itself is what every comedy musical should be; full of wit and bite, with innuendo coming out of all angles and lines bashing out between the characters, keeping the conversation and action on its feet. There’s an uninvited yet delightfully entertaining joy at hearing ‘sucking off’ and ‘Jeremy Corbyn’ in the same sentence and opposing not wanting the ‘straight and narrow’ with the much more desired ‘gay and beefy’. Lyrics are equally creative, never falling into the cheesy trap of musical theatre, but maintaining their dignity within the narrative. The music draws inspiration from a range of musical theatre undertones in a way which maintains its subtlety; providing the jazziness of Chicago without the sense of parody.
Blocking at times can feel a little awkward in the space, being often a little too centralised, but movement as a whole is dynamic; choreography by Carole Todd is necessarily camp, but also precise, displaying genuine talent from the ensemble, again maintaining nuanced subtleties, specific to the theme at hand; music which builds to an inevitable chorus line of high kicks contains itself with a jazzed-up football pitch jog. Yes, there are some high kicks too, which are completely called for and beautifully executed.
Performances are truthful: Barwood plays with his fingers, purses his lips and at one moment looks into the future with integrity. There is nothing false or diverging into pantomime. The characters spend enough time with each other and the audience to keep us involved whilst developing their onstage dynamics.
There’s certainly a tendency for the boys to get their kit off at any given opportunity, but frankly no one’s complaining. It’s saucy, sexy and incredibly funny. Burt parades around the stage like he’s swallowed a bottle of washing up liquid. And it’s brilliant. He’s larger than life, but he’s also incredibly real. His comic timing is en point, bursting through the seams of the wings in response to ‘we’re not all screaming queens’. It’s simple farce and it works to great results. The audience are loving it.
The stage is designed like a football pitch, grass up and down the backdrop with painted white lines, lockers for the changing rooms on either side, bordered with shiny reflective panels. Jamie Platt’s lighting design moves rhythmically with the shape of the music and the surrounding sounds of tweeting birds complete the setup of the atmosphere.
Whilst the plot twists aren’t the most gripping and one or two of the songs feel unnecessary, He Shoots! He Scores! is ultimately a hugely successful musical, entertaining throughout and topped off with feather boas and sparkle. Humour is a bit hit and miss, but ultimately hits, and Simon David has musically directed a powerhouse of harmonies from this hugely talented cast. The venue sings with community spirit and I think this new musical will stay at the top of my fringe favourites list for quite some time. Director Rob McWhir certainly knows what entertainment is.
Review by Joseph Winer
HE SHOOTS! HE SCORES!
A MUSICAL WITH BALLS
book by Jon Bradfield and Martin Hooper
music and lyrics by Jon Bradfield
directed by Robert McWhir
Step inside the locker room in this rude, romantic and rib-tickling new musical comedy.
Fresh off the train, country boy Joe joins the Hercules Harriers: London’s worst gay football team. He sets out to transform them from hot messes into winners, in time for an international gay tournament. But with the promise of athletic gays convening from all over Europe, the Harriers are more interested in action off the pitch.
From the team behind Get ‘Em Off! and the writers of our award-winning pantomimes, He Shoots! He Scores! promises great tunes and big laughs for all.
Joe – Jamie Barwood
Dom/Matthias – Andrew Cannon
Tayzr – Ducan Burt
Pete – Harry Cooper-Millar
Frazer/Jase/Marcus – Joey Goodwin
Will – Danny Couto
Liam – Tom Mann
Charlie – Richard Watkins
Book by Jon Bradfield and Martin Hooper
Lyrics by Jon Bradfield Tuesday
Directed by Rob McWhir
Musical Direction by Simon David
Choreography by Carole Todd
Lighting Design by Jamie Platt
Produced by Peter Bull for Above The Stag Theatre