I’m one of those that don’t even watch sport, but maybe I want to, after seeing The Longest Minute.
A deeply moving piece, that explores the highs and lows of a tight-knit family, bound together through challenge and adversity, and the tribulations that nearly tear them apart.
Shades of Bend It Like Beckham are given life in the story of the Wright family, who are bound together by football and nearly broken by it too. As the regular refrain goes, football will break your heart, but there’s no chance you’d miss a game, broken heart or no.
The show starts jovial, cheerful, giving a good Aussie ribbing to audience and players alike. But the skies are drawing in, and we are ultimately plunged into the deeply personal world of the Wright family, a tale of family life in the 80’s and 90’s, ever shaded by a dark cloud of racism and violence. The show starts to break down the dangerous dynamic of being a mixed heritage family in Australia, navigating the razor wire of race relations in regional Queensland.
And yet, though these themes are the fuel that gives the play grit, it doesn’t really go all the way. We get a peek of the pressure placed on Margaret Wright, skillfully played by Louise Brehmer, as she saunters into a marriage with a bright young Aboriginal man, who tries to live forever on the glory of his brief heyday a a hometown hero. The play talks about the violence that remains omnipresent, and even shows us a few of the challenges, but a few slurs and a brief but catastrophic incident kind of vaguely points at the vicissitudes of the lives onstage but can never really describe the multilayered complexity at play here.
I wonder about the price point, the white bread audience enjoying the work at QPAC on a cool June night, it almost feels voyeuristic here. Are these people ever going to understand that football is sometimes a way out of poverty, will they get that for many there is no way out, and even if you could take it, would you really, because you will literally leave everyone behind. In conversation with others that saw the play, I am reassured that the well-dressed Saturday night crowd that accompanied me to the show was not representative of all the performances. And I’m glad.
Mish Grigor writes movingly in the Guardian about how working class people are excluded from theatre, and that even when their stories are represented onstage, they can still feel isolated and unsafe in our most imposing artistic institutions. I’ve got to be honest, I felt that on the night I attended. This story was not about the people who came to see it, but it was for them, in that it provided a glimpse of another, much harder life, but not so much of a look-in that it would really upset them. The use of a once common, and still used, racial slur was received with suitably shocked responses – even that speaks to this audience, so shielded from the everyday lives of other Australians that they are aghast at slander still in common parlance outside of our urban centres. It ain’t right, but it’s true.
My point being, it is a great play, finely written and beautifully performed, but I’d like to see it on the road, I want to be there when it is watched on its home turf, when the people that waited for hell to freeze over get to live again the success of their team, when the people who live daily with the challenges of this family can tell me if this play is true to their story, when those that lose children and mothers and don’t quite know how to make amends, well I want to see if this helps them to ease their tricky paths back to their homes. [Ed. – the play did in fact tour to Cairns, Rockhampton and Townsville.]
The play is beautifully written, and presented with gusto and panache. The show is a chock full of spectacular performances. Chenoa Deemal glows as Jessica Wright. Her passion is furious to behold, such a lively character, and she very much grasps the nuances in her characters ambitions and challenges. I loved Louise Brehmers performance as Margaret Wright, with all the sass and attitude that exemplified how a young woman from a traditional background has a lot of challenges to face when she marries across racial boundaries. All the cast were fine performers, but another shout out to David Terry for his ever-changing face as the miscellaneous ensemble, a memorable performance for the fluidity and believe-ability he imparted to all the characters.
I cried. Of course I did. I should hope there wasn’t a dry eye in the house. But it’s so hard to tell sometimes. This work is priced out of the reach of many who would really identify with its central story. The crowd around me are affluent, secure, and for the most part, white. Good theatre, like a good novel, is a brilliant way to climb into the lives of protagonists we may not brush up against in real life. It almost feels a bit curtain-twitcher; come, step inside the life of a family you will never have to break bread with.
If this show is ostensibly there to create a glimpse of a little known world for its inner-city patrons, couched in the friendly terms of a show about footie, well why not really break it apart. Late in the show we discover Laurie Wright won’t ever go home because of the shame he feels about missing his mothers death. An easy enough story to relate to, but perhaps lacking in clearly demonstrating that for young Indigenous men in the 70’s, playing football was a path out of abject poverty.
Being a big man was so much more when you are permanently on the bottom rung of the ladder. To these young men, playing football is so much more than a hobby, such that young white men partake in, no matter how enthusiastic. That shining path out of rural Australia might just shine so bright that indeed you don’t go home when you really should, that yes, you hold onto it for the rest of your life, that you try to force your son into following in your footsteps, that you don’t recognise your daughters passion, so consumed by the memories of that shining time in your life, the promises made, and the cheques that never quite materialised.
The Longest Minute | Co-production with debase productions and JUTE Theatre Company
Writers | Robert Kronk and Nadine McDonald-Dowd
Director | Bridget Boyle
Cast | Jeremy Ambrum, Louise Brehmer, Lafe Charlton, Chenoa Deemal, Mark Sheppard, David Terry
Designers | Simona Cosentini, Simone Tesorieri
LX Designer | Jason Glenwright
Composer/Sound Designer | Kim Busty Beatz Bowers