Crouch, Touch, Pause, Engage has been touring the UK since February, and finally finishes off at the Arcola Theatre, a large and very trendy off-West End venue. As you enter the auditorium, you see nothing but a psychiatric-looking bed surrounded by benches, with the audience in relatively close proximity to the stage. The atmosphere is buzzing with excitable viewers anticipating a great show.
Crouch, Touch, Pause, Engage is a documentary play written by extensive docu-playwright Robin Soans, which explains the ease of the use of language through the piece. It tells the story of Gareth ‘Alfie’ Thomas, a professional and successful Welsh rugby player and his struggle of coming out as gay to the public, his family and – most importantly – himself. What I really enjoy about this piece is that it doesn’t glorify Alfie in an unrealistic sense: it’s just a warming story about a real person who allows himself to come to terms with accepting who he really is. Having basically no knowledge about rugby whatsoever prior to this performance, I was slightly concerned that I would fall behind with the story. This was not the case, as it is carried beautifully by the way the story is told through the use of language and characterisation.
One of the first things you notice is the use of multi-roling throughout the piece. Alfie is not played by one person throughout the piece, despite this being the expected decision. Perhaps this is why highly acclaimed director Max Stafford-Clark decided to tell the story against the norm by having each actor tell different parts of his story. It is never really fully explained as to why the story is told in this way, but it doesn’t detract from the believability or appeal of the performance. The actors pass the rugby ball to each other as they take over the character of Alfie, whilst wearing the rugby shirt to symbolise their representation. The delivery is direct address, as seems to be a very popular trend currently. This can be quite challenging, yet the cast seem to deal with this extremely well as they speak to the audience with ease and interest. The one person who seems a particular master at this is Patrick Brennan. He not only speaks to the audience and picks specific people to address, but he effortlessly responds to audience reactions and pays attention to them, demonstrating the importance of telling Alfie’s story. It is a pleasure to watch him.
The other characters that really draw my attention were Rhys ap William and Bethan Witcomb’s performances as Alfie’s parents. Their pace and rhythm are absolutely on point. They synchronise their lines so that they speak certain words in time with each other, which creates huge rounds of laughter from the audience as it further persists. Witcomb’s characterisation of the mother in particular is hilarious; she has the character of a stereotypical motherly figure down to a T.
Overall, this piece is informative yet captivating, and the interweaving of comedy and pain is told beautifully and truthfully. It’s an insightful vision into the modern struggles of sexuality in sport, appealing to a variety of people. An engaging performance by natural actors in a great space.
Crouch, Touch, Pause, Engage is playing at the Arcola Theatre until 20 June. For more information and tickets, see the Arcola Theatre website.