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Review: 37 at Billie Brown Theatre

Updated: Apr 19

Review by Sarah Skubala


Queensland Theatre’s second mainstage offering for the year is 37, an exciting, relevant, brand-new co-production with Melbourne Theatre Company. Written by the award-winning Trawlwoolway pakana man Nathan Maynard, 37 premiered at the Southbank Theatre, The Sumner, in March this year and features an ensemble of ten incredible performers.

 

37 centres around the 2015 season of a local footy club in a small coastal town. The play begins with the arrival of talented players Jayma and Sonny, two Marngrook cousins named after the Aboriginal game that inspired AFL. These two new players might just have what it takes to finally lead the Currawongs to flag victory. But the team, and the nation, are divided when an incident occurs at the AFL’s annual Indigenous Round, and Jayma and Sonny must decide what it is they truly value.

 

The performances in this production were simply excellent. Tibian Wyles was outstanding as Sonny, his comedic timing cut the tension where it was needed, and he had the audience in the palm of his hand from his very first scene. The emotional range he displayed across his character’s arc was impressive, and I am excited to see him again later in the year in Dear Brother, which he also co-wrote. Ngali Shaw was perfectly cast as the promising young sports star, Jayma. Both he and Wyles were just so damn likeable and worked together brilliantly as a contrasting duo. A recipient of the inaugural Brian Walsh AACTA Award for emerging talent, Shaw’s future looks incredibly bright.

 

37 was commissioned through MTC’s NEXT STAGE Writers’ Program and was developed with the 2022 third-year Acting students at the VCA. Two such graduates remain in the cast: Costa D’Angelo, playing Ant (who is Italian, not Greek!), and Samuel Buckley, originally playing Woodsy, now cast as Apples (the one with bleached tipped hair who went to ‘priiiiivate school’). Syd Brisbane also retains his original role as the club coach known as The General, in an absolutely authentic performance.  

 

Every cast member carved out a memorable character and held their own on the stage. Anthony Standish played Dazza, the board member, coach’s assistant and player with the tight hamstrings. Thomas Larkin played the loyal but conflicted son of the coach, GJ. Ben O’Toole played the team captain and peacekeeper, Joe. Eddie Orton was excellent as antagonist Woodsy, and Mitchell Brotz played Gorby, one of the funniest characters in the play. Brotz’s character was unhinged in the best way; his work was reminiscent of some of the comedy greats including Will Ferrell and Jack Black.

 

The production team did an exceptional job bringing everything together. Director Isaac Drandic handled the highly physical production with expert precision, which included stylised matches, training sequences, and stunning ‘mark’ montages that resembled a kind of footy ballet. The moments of traditional dance, by Drandic and co-Choreographer Waangenga Blanco, were dramatically effective and ably enhanced by James Henry and Ben Hughes in the Sound and Lighting Design departments. Set and Costume Designer Dale Ferguson captured the footy universe perfectly from the locker room benches down to the gritty turf of the oval.

 

The moments of racism were intentionally deeply uncomfortable. I could feel the collective cringing from the audience, and I could see the reactions from the First Nations people among the crowd in the three-sided corner stage theatre: bodies tensed up, gasps were audible, people covered their mouths and shook their heads. Maynard’s script realistically depicted conversations about racism, and skilfully showed how some comments are borne out of innocence, some from ignorance and some are intentionally hurtful, even threatening. I considered the effect this kind of behaviour must have on the people who encounter it in real life, and I can’t begin to imagine how painful it must be.

 

As an arts lover who tunes out the minute anyone starts talking about sport, I was unaware of the true events that inspired 37. My husband, who is a Port supporter and accompanied me to opening night, thought the treatment of number 37 Swans player Adam Goodes was disgusting and un-Australian, and he’s encouraged me to watch the 2019 documentary The Final Quarter, which is streaming for free on SBS iView, for further insight.

 

The opening night of 37 concluded with a packed house leaping to their feet for a standing ovation. 37 is everything good theatre should be – bloody entertaining, boldly provocative and a catalyst for conversation. 


Image Credit: Pia Johnson

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