Suzie Flack (Lauren Richardson) is the first female player in the AFL. She’s there because she’s earned it. How are the men going to handle this? How are the men’s wives going to take it? What about Suzie’s family, the media, the trolls?
Jane e Thompson (Writer) does not strike a didactic tone. She notes that she set out to avoid trying to make her stance too clear, as this can be deadly for a script. Rather, she started with a series of questions. The script doesn’t make an easily discernible central argument: one thing it does particularly well is to explore what happens when a woman enters a culturally significant space that has traditionally been reserved for men.
This may serve as a metaphor for the wider societal change occurring at the moment, and feeds into discussions like the C-Suite debate happening at the corporate executive level: women are being promoted into corporate management, but there are a handful of roles (which retain the most power) that are still dominated by men.
At universities in Australia professorships are stilled handed to men far more often than women. While Fierce taps into these broader societal concerns, it also delivers a first class forensic examination of Aussie culture, and especially AFL culture.
Fierce is a truly physical show: it starts and ends with the protagonist working out with a punching bag. The actors certainly look the part; all the AFL players appear extremely fit. The play features an inspired piece of dance by the players, choreographed by Stacey Duckworth, which had the audience cheering and whooping: for me it commented on the unspoken balletic gracefulness that we witness in the AFL.
Deft direction from Janine Watson (also Producer) took us on a whirlwind tour of the (at times) glitzy life of the AFL star: we follow from the training field, to the big game itself, to the clubs and parties. The play features a particularly inspired sequence in which some menacing tweets from internet trolls are projected onto the walls and across the player’s bodies: it’s so easy to dismiss the troll world as it flashes by on the news, but this show clears a little space to allow us to mull over the impact of such comments.
All elements of this production are highly tuned: the lighting (Kelsey Lee), sound design (Ben Pierpoint), and A.V. (Genevieve Muratore) work wonderfully together to quickly and effectively transport us into the various territories the play explores.
On the night I was there much of the post-show chat was about the high quality of the acting. Richardson herself truly embodies the role in a way that wins and commands the audience’s sympathy: she displays great range as we see her dominating the men on the sports field, and carefully negotiating their injured pride as she acts as care-giver at home.
Stacey Duckworth is typically wonderful in her various roles. Andrew Shaw, Felix Johnson, and Zelman Cressey-Gladwin as the three AFL players achieve high verisimilitude: the parts they play are challenging partially because they are written on a knife edge; not condemned but not lionised either.
Fierce delivers a riveting night at the theatre, which doesn’t offer up easy answers, but asks a lot of timely questions. The dynamic nature of the scenes means you never have a moment to tune out: highly recommended.
Old Fitz Theatre, 129 Dowling Street, Woolloomooloo
Season continues to 13 April 2019
Information and Bookings: www.redlineproductions.com.au
Image: Zelman Cressey-Gladwin, Felix Johnson, Lauren Richardson and Andrew Shaw feature in Fierce – photo by Clare Hawley
Review: Oliver Wakelin