Robin Soans’ adaptation of the now legendary story of Welsh rugby star Gareth “Alfie” Thomas is as dark as it is moving. The story begins in early 1990s Bridgend, after the mines were closed. A young Alfie, played by every member of the ensemble cast at different times, is making his name in the sport as the town descends into poverty. Meanwhile, Welsh rugby undergoes a series of changes that spells the end for Bridgend RFC, whose Saturday afternoon matches at The Brewery Field were the highlight of the week for locals.
Thomas’ story is interwoven with that of Darcy (Lauren Roberts), whose isolation and attempted suicide is a metaphor for the plight of Bridgend. Even Lord Neil Kinnock (Patrick Brennan) makes an appearance as the austerity of early 90s Wales provides a backdrop for Thomas’ struggle. Highlights of the first half include the dialogue of Vonnie (Bethan Witcomb) and Baz (Rhys ap WIlliam), Alfie’s parents, who capture that small-town Welsh ethos beautifully – and hilariously.
The story gets increasingly darker as Alfie’s sexuality comes to the fore. The rugby ball and Wales jersey carried and worn by every actor playing the role reflects the burden Thomas felt as Welsh captain, and of course the weight of his secret. A fascinating scene charts the moment, when on the eve of Wales’ clash with England in 2001, The Sun almost outed him as gay – only for the story to be pulled.
After the interval, the audience’s heartstrings are plucked, with the conclusion of Alfie’s story. His contemplation of suicide and revelation to best friend “Compo” (Daniel Hawksford) are beautifully acted. But the climax comes too soon and we are left with Alfie the TV personality and Alfie the lecturer, rather than Alfie the rugby hero. We are also left with Bridgend, still struggling to adapt to the 21st century.
The action is set in a changing room, with words like “Endurance” and “Teamwork” etched in scarlet ink on the walls, a minimalistic setting for a story which tells itself. Thomas’ pain is simply told, with simple direction, but to great effect.
The Welsh flag is flown proudly in Soans’ script which is humorous and candid. Hawksford’s performance as Compo, a traditional, heterosexual rugby-playing bloke is brilliant. His abrupt manner and tough love for his mate Alfie represents a victory for comradeship in the face of cruel jeers and taunts.
The standing ovation was perhaps a stretch but nonetheless Crouch, Touch, Pause, Engage is an instant hit whether you love rugby or not. A wonderfully honest celebration of acceptance, tradition and loyalty. Thomas truly is a legend – his bravery on and off the field is laudable.
Here’s the trailer: