Review: Noel Wallace in Official Size Five at Wilton's Music Hall

Performance: 28 & 29 September 2011
Reviewed by Lise Smith - Monday 3 October 2011

Noel Wallace 'Official Size Five' 28-29 Sep, Wilton's Music Hall. Photo: Heiko Prigge

Reviewed: 28 September

Footballer Justin Fashanu made history in 1981 when he became the first black player to be valued at £1 million. He made history of a different kind when in 1990 he became the first – and to date only – professional footballer to come out as gay. Unprepared for the degree of backlash and vicious homophobic “banter” this decision would earn him in the press and on the pitch, Fashanu moved to the United States before committing suicide in 1998 at the age of 37. *Noel Wallace’s Official Size Five*seeks to examine Fashanu’s life and death through dance and projected film.

Wallace, himself a pioneer (being the first black dancer to join the English National Ballet) clearly feels some similarity between Fashanu’s story as his own, and sets this parallel up effectively in the opening sequence, which has him pace onstage to the tempo of a rhythmically bouncing football, a sound that also mimics the pulse of a heartbeat.

Wallace is a gorgeous mover, and a filmed sequence in which he curls and sculpts himself around a football accompanied by a choral version of the Liverpool club anthem You’ll Never Walk Alone is beautiful and affecting. However, too much of this production is swamped by David McCormick’s film, which juxtaposes Fashanu’s story with film footage of other prominent gay and lesbian figures including American gospel singer Sister Rosetta Tharpe and Haitian artist Jean-Michel Basquiat.

McCormick’s cut-and-paste technique owes something to the archive montages of filmmaker Adam Curtis. Where Curtis’s films relate a well-supported narrative and reveal unexpected or hidden relationships between subjects through clever structure and careful research, however, McCormick’s juxtapositions appear capricious and haphazard. In one sequence, the music video for Sinéad O’Connor’s Nothing Compares 2 U is intercut with footage of Nottingham Forest manager (and Fashanu’s employer) Brian Clough discussing the concept of a player’s private life – the connection is far from apparent, and comes across as jarring and amateurish.

More successful is Wallace’s own stage performance. In a striking early sequence, the dancer appears shuffling inside an oversized orange coat – the symbolism of a garment Wallace is trapped inside and yet unable to make fit is apparent without being too obvious. A duet with aerialist Augusts Dakteris to Joan Armatrading’s Love and Affection is an outstandingly sensual moment, the two men skimming the stage and circling one another with real tenderness. However, this sensitive highlight is all too short-lived, and is immediately followed by an ending that manages to be at the same time predictable and rudely abrupt.

It would be naïve to suggest that anyone could claim to understand either the torment Fashanu faced during his lifetime, pilloried for being the only footballer brave enough to be honest about his sexuality, or the reasons for his untimely death. I had hoped, however, that the performance would offer some insight into Fashanu’s character, his legacy, and the continuing challenges facing gay people in the public eye.

I left Wilton’s Music Hall feeling that I knew no more about Fashanu, or the circumstances of his suicide, than when I entered, a result that is not only disappointing in terms of the work but borders on disrespect to the memory of the man. It is to be hoped that Wallace will revise the most successful sections of this work-in-progress for future development, and rethink the parts that offer too little substance or insight into a complex and sensitive set of issues.

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