By Rosie Niven
As I entered the Old Fitz Theatre this week for the Sydney Premiere of Jane E. Thompson’s FIERCE I was instantly hit with the smell of Tiger Balm - a gel used to heal muscles that have been over-exerted after training. It’s a smell I associate with strength and power, with pushing your limits, with fierce determination. Teamed with the visual of actor Lauren Richardson relentlessly pummeling a huge boxing bag hanging in the middle of the stage, we are very quickly offered a glimpse into just how fierce Richardson’s character, Suzie Flack, really is.
Suzie Flack has fought through the ranks to become the first female Australian Rules footballer to play professionally with the men’s team. Despite the advice of her father and other coaches, she rejects the AFL Women’s League and joins a space that consistently tries to shun her. Throughout the duration of FIERCE, we see this purely male space turn against her, from graphic locker room talk before a game, to violent online threats of sexual and physical assault just for daring to play on the men’s team. The power of her body is constantly questioned, and she is placed under public scrutiny. In light of the recent events surrounding AFLW player Tayla Harris, this feels all too close to home.
The design team for FIERCE has successfully come together to completely immerse us on Suzie’s world: Melanie Liertz’s sleek set feels cold and masculine and the harsh lines emulate those on the playing field and Suzie’s sports jerseys, Kelsey Lee’s lighting design brings depth to the dark stage and swiftly transforms the space from bedroom to nightclub to football field without fault (the flickering fluorescent lights over Suzie in the locker room were a particularly striking image), and Ben Pierpoint’s sound design mixes well-known pop songs with football commentary that builds until we feel we are drowning in men’s voices. Together, the design team unapologetically presents Suzie’s experiences, and highlights how this environment can break someone’s spirit.
Fortunately, the spirit broken is not Suzie’s. It is empowering to see strong women refusing to conform, and Suzie Flack is the epitome of this. However, in a story that tries to tackle multiple issues in 85 minutes, from misogyny to father-daughter relationships to online abuse to sexuality (the last of which felt uncomfortably glossed over), Richardson’s performance, while strong, lacked the variety required to truly empathise with each separate storyline we are faced with. Richardson is supported by a strong ensemble that switch smoothly between roles - most memorable are Martin Jacobs as Suzie’s Alzheimer-affected father, Chantelle Jamieson as the lonely and loveable WAG, and Felix Johnson as the kind-hearted male escort.
Thompson’s play has come at the right time, and audiences are ready to digest more content that places value in the strength of women. FIERCE does exactly that, and many of the scenes hit their mark in celebrating Suzie’s strength and courage, especially in the face of so much adversity. We still have a long way to go, but with stories like this taking to the stage we are given hope for a future for women that goes beyond their bodies, and seeing Suzie pioneer in that environment makes for a very engaging story.
Photo Credit: Clare Hawley
All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.