Not content with watching from the sidelines, edgy new play Away From Home is a forceful and necessary confrontation of the current atmosphere of homophobia in British football. Co-written by director Martin Jameson and performer Rob Ward, Away From Home tells the story of football fan and rent boy Kyle (Ward) who finds himself sleeping with the enemy, as it were, after a Saturday match defeat for his team. The story has more than a hint of ‘Romeo and Juliet’ to it – “this play is not a fairy tale”, the programme warns us – as the star-crossed lovers embark upon a secret relationship.
Coarse and cynical Kyle visibly softens whenever he talks about the anonymous, closeted Premiership footballer (referred to only as ‘he’) and it’s clear that he is in love. As Kyle learns to accept love without payment, he settles into the WAG lifestyle of fancy flats and fast cars but it’s not long before the thrill of forbidden love begins to feel tired and, above all, unfair.
Kyle’s struggle mirrors Rob Ward’s own battle to reconcile his homosexuality with his love of the ‘Beautiful Game’. The result is heartfelt and frustrated. Ward and Jameson’s script is punchy and concise, saying enough to get you angry and thinking in just 70 minutes.
Ward’s performance is something of hat-trick. He not only carries the weight of such a provocative show on his own and delivers a gripping performance as the young football fan but also manages to create many other completely real characters. With subtle mannerisms, accents and changes in body language, Ward becomes the cockney footballer, his camp pimp, his laddish mates in the pub, his frantic mother and his homophobic father, among others. This is a one-man show set in a messy flat but within such limitations Ward creates a whole world and it’s stunning to watch.
We all know that there shouldn’t be a place for homophobia in sport but it is sadly a prejudice deeply entrenched in football, from the vulgar chants of the stands to the devastating anti-gay comments made by some of the highest club managers. Will this production be enough to finally drag the Premier League into the twenty-first century? Probably not. But if Away From Home sparks just one debate on such an important issue then it has been successful. Tackling such a raw problem with great skill, this is absolutely vital theatre paving the way for a change that is long overdue.