Alone It Stands - Ensemble Theatre (NSW)
Directed by Janine Watson. Written by John Breen.
Reviewed by Mary Anne Reid
Ensemble Theatre, Kirribilli
Until 2nd March, 2024
Witty, joyful and aptly directed, this is a joyous romp for the sport lovers, and the newly initated.
The director of Ensemble Theatre’s production Alone It Stands, Janine Watson, calls this Irish play “ridiculously physical and very funny” – and she is absolutely right. It has been a long while since I laughed so much in the theatre.
Alone It Stands is based on the true story of the improbable victory, in 1978, of an all-amateur Irish rugby team from Munster over the mighty New Zealand All Blacks. The All Blacks were touring Ireland at the time and absolutely no one thought the Munsters could go the distance. When the Irish lads walked off with a 12-0 victory, the country “went mad with joy”, says Irish playwright John Breen.
Alone It Stands, Ensemble Theatre 2024. Images by Prudence Upton.
With Breen winning awards for his 2000 production, Alone It Stands has since played all over Ireland as well as in the UK, Australia, United States, France, Malaysia and New Zealand. Watson and her team at the Ensemble can hold their heads up high for upholding the already established quality of work in this latest production.
Alone It Stands is not just a David and Goliath story. The strength of the production is the humour and the physicality of that humour, which is amped up by the speed at which the action and dialogue occur. The troupe of six actors plays a total of more than 60 parts. The characters they depict include the Munster team, the All Blacks, the wife of a Munster and her medical team delivering twins during the game, a sports commentator, match spectators, and Munster teenagers building a bonfire off field.
This all plays out in a very small space, with tight staging and lighting supporting the quick turnarounds – we know a bonfire is burning, for instance, as the rising flames reflect on the faces of the players. There is little focus on costumes and set design – everything is arranged to support quick transitions form one scene to the next.
Tiana Marino Tiakiwai led the actors in exploring and performing the Haka KA MATE, which was strong and authentic enough to draw loud applause from the audience.
The humour is a mixture of physical gags, funny accents (Irish, English, Kiwi) and witty dialogue, plus the rapid juxtaposition of scenes – a high point being the dextrous switch from rugby scrum to hospital birthing team, where, in an instant, an emerging ball becomes a baby and the soundscape shifts from cheers to screams.
This show boasts a terrific cast who, with the help of dialect coach Linda Nicholls-Gidley, make a good fist – sometimes a hilarious one – of all the accents required. Cast members Briallen Clarke and Alex King move happily from male to female characters, with Alex putting in an especially charming cameo as a dog.
Cultural consultant Tiana Marino Tiakiwai led the actors in exploring and performing the Haka KA MATE, which was strong and authentic enough to draw loud applause from the audience.
It is hard to know how much Watson’s interpretation differs from previous productions but her references to ‘huge scrapbooks’ and ‘drawn out staging’ in the program suggest that she and the team have very much put their own stamp on the production.
There were a variety of ages in the audience, and it appeared to be a winner with everyone. If you’re looking for something witty, slapstick, joyful and fast-paced, that will keep you on your toes, this is the show for you.
Playwright. John Breen
Director. Janine Watson
Cultural Consultant. Tiana Tiakiwai
Set and Costume Designer. Emma White
Lighting Designer. Matt Cox
Composer and Sound Designer. Jessica Dunn
Dialect Coach. Linda Nicholls-Gidley
Fight Director. Tim Dashwood
Intimacy Coordinator. Chloë Dallimore
Stage Manager. Lauren Tulloh
Costume Supervisor. Renata Beslik
Ray Chong Nee
By Arrangement with ORiGiN Theatrical
On behalf of Samuel French Ltd, A Concord Theatricals Company