FRINGE COMEDY, THEATRE – Grand Final Day – Tarndanya Theatre – 4K

scaled_DRAFT3By Alexander Ewers

“Life is a game; football is serious”. Nowhere is that sentiment more unapologetically embodied than in the homespun and home-bred clubs of this nation’s Amateur League. And performed for the first time this season, Peter Maddern’s third Fringe comedy simultaneously evokes and parodies that very spirit, skilfully weaving together the traditions and practices, both arcane and banal, that constitute this Australian game. Landing his audience directly into the living, breathing heart of one such football team in their season-defining moment – Grand Final Day – there follows a glorious melange of the random, the improbable, and the incompatible, as can only find sense in the crucible of the game day change-room.

Welcome to the Dingbats! The Dingbats are a uniquely average, quintessentially passionate, and (remarkably) undefeated local football team, stumbling together on the morn of their Grand Final. From their sanctuary in the bowels of the football clubrooms, and led by a battle weary veteran with requisite hamstring injuries, the Dingbats venture forth to partake in the oft-rehearsed rituals of game day. Ranging from the irreverent pre-match banter, somatisation of nerves and obligatory physio, to the questionably misplaced fervour of the coach’s rousing battle-speeches, a progression of scenes unfold, each as familiar, as the last. The obligatorily eccentric group of misfits, their unquestionable devotion variably matched by physical prowess, face seemingly insurmountable challenges to have their shot at claiming the ultimate trophy.

Down to the “Footy Budgets” on sale at the door, the Grand Final Day experience is curated to transport one directly into the idiosyncratic and endearing world of amateur league football. The unclad and minimalist décor of Tandanya Theatre fittingly stands in for the crude but oddly intimate environs of a football clubhouse, complete with the ubiquitous massage table centrepiece. This is augmented by sound effects that capture the strangely amplified and yet somehow distant echoes of game day as heard through the filter of a basement change-room. Maddern alternates between parodying and paying homage to the hodgepodge of traditions and “perversions” that constitute the crude, unembellished game as enjoyed at its roots. Think “snags”, a rousing rendition of “Sweet Caroline”, visceral props courtesy of the coach, and a physio armed with the dual weapons of a well-spoken word and a well-timed tonic.

While occasionally a little predictable and experiencing a few early lapses in momentum, Grand Final Day on the whole maintains an energy and fresh humour belying the familiarity of a story replayed annually across the country. In fact, often little overt comedic effort is necessary, the sheer improbability and absurdity of the competition’s quirks at amateur level, speaking for itself and largely carrying the performance through any slow points. A couple noteworthy observations – the deliberate nod to female participants in the game is a refreshing touch in an era marked by the recent advent of the AFLW. Similarly, the physio’s monologue as she dispenses her ultimate weapon to a weary skipper, has to be one of the more eloquent expressions of the spirit of this sport that attracts and binds so many Australians together.

In a time when Australian values seem impossibly difficult to define, Grand Final Day captures that simple but glorious unorthodoxy that is the fair-dinkum Australian approach to a fair dinkum Australian game, stripped of all and any pretention. While undeniably produced with the insight of one having firsthand experience, even the most casual of football fans can hope to be both delighted and enthused by this irreverently comical performance.


Kryztoff Rating 4K


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