20
Jun
17

The Forwards

 

The Forwards

Brisbane Powerhouse, Shock Therapy Productions & Zeal Theatre

Brisbane Powerhouse Visy Theatre

June 14 – 24 2017

 

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

 

 

 

You may or may not be a footy fan but The Forwards is for everyone, no matter your feelings about sport or art, or the inconceivability of combining the two in any way in between opening ceremonies…

because it’s about people.

Stefo Nantsou’s latest show for Zeal Theatre and Shock Therapy Productions was originally written for high school audiences, and while there remains a made-for-school-curriculum quality early in the text, in its set up, this and its humour is what makes it accessible; it’s wide open, literally with something for everyone, and like The Apology, my other favourite work from this Gold Coast based collective, it deserves to go far.

The Forwards ticks all the boxes, but more importantly, it tugs at the heartstrings and reminds us, powerfully, of who we are, where we come from, and the reasons we might feel the need to escape. In this highly physical and confrontational drama, Australia’s small town mentality and a number of universal issues go under the microscope.

 

 

It might not have been you who grew up in a football obsessed town the size of the fictional Pintoon, but you must know someone who did. The stories we have after spending just three years in Mt Isa would make a disturbing evening too, but we’ll let those sleeping dogs lie a little longer. The panoply of Pintoon characters is impressive, and even more so when we realise that this show is performed in schools by three actors rather than five.

Despite each character coming dangerously close to being a Great Australian Stereotype, the immediate recognition (and the nicknames: Twerk, Hashtag etc), are vital, helping us to get to know everyone in record time. (It’s already a slightly longer than necessary show; we only need to see the first or second, and then the final quarter of the match, or each quarter can be a good deal shorter, more effectively applying the tableaus).

 

 

To return to each individual at the end of the play in a beautiful, extended, transformative sequence is a masterstroke, and a masterclass in nuanced physical performance.

Nantsou has shaped the story as if it’s already optioned for a television movie or mini series, and perhaps it might be; there’s certainly a broader audience for this story, and what a refreshing wake up call to see something so Australian, so unforgivably real on our small screens. Using slow motion and choreographed sequences to good effect, we’re sickened by the small-minded, heavy-handed violence throughout – implied and actual – and horrified by the inevitable end.

 

Spoiler alert: there hasn’t been a more terrifying car crash seen on stage since Fractal’s Anywhere Fest production of My Love Had a Black Speed Stripe (2015), which also benefited from mesmerising slow motion sequences and a lighting design by Geoff Squires. I’d LOVE to see these productions done as a double bill at Brisbane Powerhouse (…and Mt Isa Civic Centre). Can you imagine? And afterwards the drinking culture would continue, because we’re gonna’ need something pretty strong at the end of an evening like THAT. 

 

Sam Foster, Hayden Jones and Ellen Bailey bring accomplished performances to the Visy stage,  playing all manner of townsfolk as well as the main characters who harness our hearts and would have us take sides, only we can’t because we’re given all angles to consider and compassion is the only way through.

Bailey as both the jock and his girlfriend is inspired casting; it’s a demanding ask of the actor but she delivers, leaving us in the end with a heart wrenching image of desperate hollow grief. 

Rob Diley and Nantsou bring a number of additional roles to life, and from the outset, carry the garage band sound and energy. The original music played live by the entire cast on stage adds another raw, real element to the production. Without it we’d be left wanting.

With Foster and Nantsou’s simple set design, and Squires’ moody lighting, this school show has grown up and graduated to the main stage. 

There has been one other company to have the same powerful impact on audiences of all ages, inside and outside of the school setting. 

Only Nelle Lee’s Tequila Mockingbird has delivered a similar shock to the contemporary collective system. On one hand it’s surprising that there are not more like it, The Apology and The Forwards, and on the other, it’s possible that the code is just too hard for other companies to crack. Or perhaps the others think the scene is stitched up? Or they’re interested in other things. But there is great demand for these works, due to the desperate need in our secondary schools for real life issues to be brought to the table in powerful, transformative ways that teens can relate to.

If you know a teacher or a school administrator, can you make sure they know about this show? We see the impact of theatre on the whole school community; it should never be just for the kids who do Drama.

The Forwards offers a rare opportunity for our youth and the people who care about them to consider the challenging issues of belonging, leaving, the law, loyalty, love, loss, sex, secrets, pride, rules, respect, envy, violence, entertainment, youth, ageing, country towns, clubs, community, the lure of bright city lights and celebrity, alcoholism, addiction, football and rape culture, and what it means to be a man or woman or mother or father or figure of authority in this country. The jury’s still out on that one. Rather than being condescending or irrelevant to kids’ lives outside of the classroom, The Forwards will make them, and their teachers and parents, sit up and see familiar people and familiar problems in a way that demands discussion.

 

 

With deep insight, sensitivity and a necessarily light touch at times, Nantsou has written and directed an outstanding, hard-hitting theatrical piece to challenge its actors and audiences.

The Forwards is potent and it has the potential to change lives.

Production pics by Garth Ledwidge

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