Review: Crouch Touch Pause Engage

Jeffrey Rubel 23 October 2019

The company of five actors, comprised of Harriet Wilton, Freya Ingram, Benjamin Gibson, Georgina Deri and Brandon Lino, pass a red rugby shirt between themselves during the show as they rotate who embodies the protagonist. Our protagonist is Gareth “Alfie” Thomas, the gay Welsh rugby player whose coming out story is the central thrust of Crouch Touch Pause Engage – now playing at the Corpus Playroom.

While this perhaps makes the first thirty minutes of the show confusing (who is Alfie?), it soon settles into normalcy and symbolizes the fundamental theme of the narrative (we are all Alfie). The play, a verbatim recitation of interviews conducted with Gareth’s community members, interweaves Gareth’s narrative with that two young women in his hometown of Brigend. These young women, like Gareth, are struggling with trouble and loneliness.

At least in the beginning, while the narrative finds its footing, this is an intellectual exercise. With everyone playing everyone, characters are shirts, not people. And while this makes sense for the central premise of the show – we are struggling, together – it also creates (perhaps unavoidably) confusion. Who is who? (Watch the shirts.) Who do I empathize with? (Everyone; that’s the point.) You learn, but not without a bit of confusion first.

The show opens with the actors looking out to the audience and speaking about Brigend; talking out to us, the show both welcomes us to Brigend and highlights the tension and distance embedded in the community.

This is where the show’s brilliance lies, in staging that shows just how much distance can exist between people when they keep secrets – about sexuality or mental health. When characters talk to each other, they do not make eye contact. The mother and father talk to Gareth without looking at him. Darcey and Meryl, the two Brigend schoolgirls, stare out at the audience while discussing their troubles.

This constructed distance plays well with the intimacy of the Corpus Playroom. The actors often enter for scenes from the aisles and talk out to us – and when talking to the audience rather than talking to characters within the scene, they portray their sense of longing. They want community but just can’t seem to find it. Deasil Waltho’s lighting design cleverly furthers this by often shining lights into the audience; we cannot avoid that we are implicated in the story, the distance, and the struggle as much as the actors are.

Where this production sometimes falls short is in its portrayal of vibrancy. The cast of five struggled to make an early rugby scene come to life. A party later in the show felt feigned. But, this is the trade-off that perhaps comes with a small cast –– and having a cast any larger than five would diminish the fundamental premise of shared struggle that underlies so much of the show.

The show closes on the title line: “crouch, touch, pause, engage.” It’s said by all the actors, in a scrum, staring out at the audience. They are, for the first time in the show, one. I know “engage” is a rugby term, but at this moment, I cannot help but here it as “engage with each other,” “engage with the community,” “engage with yourself.” For all the talk about community, it finally manifests here. For one moment, we see it. The company is looking out to the audience not as individuals, but as a collective.

4 stars.