Writer: John Donnelly
Director: Ed Wightman
February 11 – March 6, 2021
John Donnelly’s gripping The Pass asks us to consider the age-old question: how best to live both an authentic and fulfilling life. Recontextualised in the world of 21st-century elite professional football, the question becomes how much the central character, Jason, is prepared to sacrifice for success and more importantly, how is success defined.
As an ambitious 17-year-old, Jason (Ben Chapple) shares a room in a Bulgarian hotel with the less socially confident Ade (Deng Deng) as they both prepare for the game that will see one of them chosen by talent scouts and the other rejected. Restless and cooped up they indulge in a rather contradictory horseplay. While Jason invites physical contact from Ade at the same time he makes racist and classist jokes at his teammate’s expense leaving the more sincere Ade perplexed and anxious.
Success at this point is getting selected and there is not a doubt in our minds that Ade will be the loser. While both are ambitious, Deng Deng’s Ade is the needier of assurance and friendship, and Chapple’s Jason, shaped by background and expectation to assume superiority, will have little compunction in adopting tactics that undermine Ade’s chances. The tension between them seems to spring not so much from homoerotic play but from how Jason can play the more vulnerable Ade’s desire for affection. However, at the same time, Jason’s stop-start advances reveal his sexual orientation.
When we next see Jason he is an international star of the game – as he says “rich and famous” – trying to maintain his macho reputation via the means of a not so secretly filmed sexual encounter. The interaction between Lindsey (Cassie Howarth), a lap-dancer – again a more sincere character who has her own version of success – and a calculating Jason impervious to all but his own interest is a dramatic highlight of the play. He likes to be in control, he tells the cowed Lindsey, and when we see him a few years later, his need to dominate takes him to new excesses of cruelty towards a cheerful hotel minion (Tom Rodgers) – for whom success is personal contact with celebrities – and a desperate attempt to regain a more innocent version of himself through Ade.
Are the still immense pressures on sporting celebrities to remain closeted in terms of image and merchandise, still immense conflict between being a team player and achieving individual recognition and still punishing demands on the physical body reasons enough to make us pity Jason’s ultimate isolation. Or would Jason’s need to be in control, to be invulnerable, have destroyed any chance of authenticity in personal relationships which Donnelly seems to offer – rather hastily – at the close as a true definition of success.
The play’s structure makes immense demands upon the central character and Chapple is excellent as the physically fit, often acerbically witty and calculating Jason, and both Howarth and Rodgers convince as characters who bring a dose of reality into Jason’s enclosed hotel world. The role of Ade is a difficult ask and Deng Deng does his best as a bookend character who is vitally significant to Donnelly’s moral fable.