Wednesday, 5 July 2006

Rebel Tour by Stephen Vagg, July 5, 2006

  Rebel Tour by Stephen Vagg
 La Mama at the Courthouse, July 5 to 15, 2006
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on July 5, 2006

Now that the Australians are out of the soccer, there might be some cricket tragics who would like to reminisce about the political debate that surrounded the Australian rebel cricket tour to South Africa from 1985 to 1987.

Stephen Vagg’s play takes place during the secretive negotiation period before the tour. It is a snapshot of the machinations that occurred inside the Australian Cricket Board (ACB), the Australian government and the personal lives of the players concerned although the characters are fictitious.

In this period, the face of Australian cricket changed forever. Players became professional, negotiated contracts, and higher salaries, Kerry Packer introduced “pyjama cricket” - the one-day games, and the ACB introduced trainers, physiotherapists and dieticians to the game.

The production will appeal to those who know recent cricket history. The script is educational and integrates enormous amounts of factual information into the dialogue. At times, the details are overwhelming and the dialogue becomes uncomfortably didactic and expository.

Although there are some monologues directly to audience, most of the play is naturalistic. We watch players, Ken, the Chairman (Ian Rooney) and Ray, the team lawyer (Adam Ford) haggle over contracts in offices, bars and locker rooms.

Taylor is instrumental in the changes taking place in the ACB. He introduces salaries, professionalism and two-year contracts. Ken pines for the amateur days before money ruled the game and Packer had no power.

When Conrad Van Eyck (Andrew S. Gilbert), a South African, secretly signs up several Aussie cricket legends for $200,000 each, the seams begin to split at the ACB.

The politics of the period are effectively embedded in the story. South Africa faced international economic and sporting sanctions until it dismantled Apartheid. The Australian government banned all sporting contact with South Africa. Many Australians believed politics should not interfere with sport.

The acting is uneven and the production, directed by John Brousek, is very static, relying on the torrent of dialogue. It could benefit from some script editing and more physicalisation. Some actors are tripping over their densely written lines.

The characters are recognisable types in the sporting world. Josh Cameron as Chicka is a loutish bowler who blames batsmen for everything. Leo Faust plays Jack, the nice-guy batsman and Matthew Boesenberg is Butch, the unpredictable batsman.

A highlight is Phil Roberts as the cricket-hungry senator who gives an impassioned speech in parliament about sport and Apartheid.

If you are missing the cricket season, Rebel Tour could fill the gap for you.

By Kate Herbert

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