★★★★ | Crouch, Touch, Pause, Engage – National Tour

Gareth Thomas is one of the most successful rugby players ever to take to the field for his country. But in the testosterone filled world of professional rugby, he hides the fact that he is gay, causing him to engage in a secret double life and bringing him to the brink of suicide. But equally, his hometown of Bridgend in Wales is also a place of sadness, as a spate of teen suicides blight the small, close-knit community. Crouch, Touch, Pause, Engage tells the story of both Gareth Thomas and his struggle with his sexuality and the story of two teenage girls from Bridgend, each battling with their own issues.

Set on a stage resembling a locker room, and utilising only the simplest of props and costumes, each of the six-strong cast played multiple characters and morphed seamlessly from one to another, including each taking turns to play Thomas himself, as they recounted the two intertwined stories. Told in a verbatim style with the script primarily delivered in a direct address to the audience, the writing of Robin Soans had a very natural feel as it was conveyed by the cast, leading to characters who were accessible, felt familiar and who were instantly likeable. From the cast, Rhys ap William and Daniel Hawksford stood out the most, with both delivering solid performances in their various roles. Taking the audience through a number of ‘crisis points’ in both stories, there were a couple of points during the play where I felt myself welling up; but interestingly enough, it was a real shame that the moment when Thomas comes out to his parents was not handled particularly well by Katie-Elin Salt, leaving such a pivotal scene feeling flat and slightly awkward despite the best endeavours of the other cast members.

The play draws parallels between the personal struggles of Thomas and the young people of Bridgend, demonstrating that even those considered heroes have their personal demons; and showing young people that they are not as isolated or alone as they may think. Dealing with a number of sensitive topics, the play handles them well, and draws a genuine emotional reaction from the audience as well as providing food for thought on many levels, whether that be empathising with the characters or their families on stage or reflecting on their own experiences and emotions.

Crouch, Touch, Pause, Engage is thought provoking and emotional, with an undeniably strong message of hope and positivity.

Crouch, Touch, Pause, Engage was reviewed at West Yorkshire Playhouse (www.wyp.org.uk ) and is continuing on its national tour, details of which can be found at http://www.outofjoint.co.uk/production/crouch-touch-pause-engage. You can also read our interview with Gareth Thomas about the production.

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