Saturday 19 March 2016

BFI Flare 2016 - The Pass by Ben A Williams

Adapted by John Donnelly from his critically acclaimed play, and directed by Ben A Williams, The Pass opened the 30th London LGBT Film Festival (FLARE) this year. The Pass is first and foremost a brilliant Russell Tovey vehicle. For those unfamiliar with the play, it tells the story of a closeted football player Jason (Tovey), in an episodic narrative which spans 10 years of his turbulent life. The story takes place mostly indoors and is told in a three acts structure, separated by five years in between each act. Bar the last act, it is mostly a two hander.

Jason’s struggle with his sexuality is first showcased in act one, when he finds himself sharing a room in a Romanian hotel with his team mate and direct rival, handsome all-round good guy and Christian boy Ade, played superbly by newcomer Arinze Kene. In the first act we see the twosome ribbing one another about their standing in the club and who is likely to come out on top. The gentle teasing suddenly turns into aggressive mocking and at times casual racist banter - then a kiss between the two changes everything.

From there on we meet Jason again twice; both times in fairly similar circumstances in different hotel rooms. In the second act, the cocky front is starting to show some serious cracks and he finds himself having to take matters in his own hands to silence those who are threatening to out him. In this two hander, he is joined by Lisa McGrills playing Lindsey, a tabloid “kiss and tell” wannabe, who gives Jason as good as he gives. McGrills’s stunning performance makes up for Ade’s absence.

The third act is where Jason comes unstuck. After years of denial, misery and a failed marriage, he reaches out to Ade who seems to have made more of his life through being true to himself. The third act takes place in a third hotel room and reaches a moment of pure brilliance from Tovey - at times dangerous and angry, at other vulnerable and genuinely regretful of what might have been. Tovey exudes brilliance, even when he does his usual squeaky loveable cockney turn.

Donnelly can be commended for knowing his football better than most. He brings a real authenticity to the proceedings; he understands the psychology of the players and is therefore able to make the characters highly believable, without falling into the usual cliché ridden storylines that are often associated with “boy meets boy” narratives.

Although dealing with worthy issues like homophobia and self-denial, it is a film which essentially knows its audience and does not shy away from providing visual pleasure. Its protagonists are often seen topless and at their physical best, which in no way detracts from the principal message. There is a further voyeuristic pleasure in watching the “will they, won't they” narrative play out, as well as a genuine concern for Jason’s well being and his descent into drink and drug abuse. Further praise must go to the former Hollyoaks actor Nico Mirallegro who provides an astonishingly electric performance of a “handsome but dim” hotel porter in the third act.

On the whole, The Pass is a curious little production, which almost would have looked more at home a decade ago. Its aesthetics are very much those associated with theatre, which is not a criticism per se. It is a powerful opener for the Festival and it will surely find an audience beyond the LGBT community it was intended for.

Review by Linda Marric

The Pass. UK 2016. Directed by Ben A Williams. Produced by Duncan Kenworthy. Written by John Donnelly. Starring Russell Tovey, Arinze Kene, Lisa McGrillis, Nico Mirallegro.

No confirmed UK release date as yet.

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