Max Stafford-Clark’s dark drama about Brigend a decaying South Wales town in the aftermath of the coalfield closures asks a lot of its audience.
There’s a lot going on during this production, a collaboration with National Theatre Wales, Cardiff’s Sherman, London’s Arcola and Out of Joint theatre company. Juxtaposed with reports of mass youth suicide and the decline of a one-thriving community is the story of Welsh ruby legend Gareth “Alfie” Thomas and his battle with his sexuality.
Crouch, Touch, Pause. Engage (instructions for players in a scrum) examines Thomas’ life from his days playing for local team Pencoed RFC to international stardom when he was Welsh captain and awarded 100 caps.
The narrative was put together from interviews with Thomas, his friends and members of his family and is therefore a very personal and intimate portrayal of the anguish he went through when he was threatened with exposure by the tabloid press. So much so that he contemplated suicide.
It’s an engaging and moving story with the six-strong cast taking on multiple roles, including former leader of the Labour Party Neil Kinnock - each one in turn also taking on the part of Thomas which works surprisingly well.
There’s plenty of humour as well as pathos. Thomas’ rugby-mad mum and dad played by Bethan Witcomb and Rhys ap William are real characters. They finish each others lines and the pride and love they feel for their son is palpable.