Capturing the energy and emotion of an unlikely sporting victory, Irish playwright John Breen’s Alone It Stands lets its audience share in the collective amazement that enveloped Limerick’s Thomond Park in October 1978 when Munster, an outfit of local rugby players, beat the New Zealand All Blacks, the greatest team of the era.
Breen’s highly physical account of the game employs a tightly drilled company of six to play both teams. Not only do the company members have to turn on a dime, they have to do it repeatedly. From the slow-building, semi-whispered haka that opens the play, Alone It Stands paints a warmly humorous picture of a pre-Celtic Tiger Ireland and a sporting culture now a thing of the past – sacrificed to the gods of professionalism and commerce.
Director Janine Watson (aided by fight choreographer Tim Dashwood) has created a fast-flowing and inventive choreography for the show, recreating key moments in the game (with hilarious insights into the shenanigans that take place in the ruck), as well as cutaways to the crowd, the radio commentary box, the car park, and to a bunch of kids building a bonfire with old tyres nicked from a recycling depot.
Working on a kind of astroturf cyclorama and without much room to move on the Ensemble’s stage, actors Tristan Black, Ray Chong Nee, Briallen Clarke, Skyler Ellis, Alex King and Anthony Taufa are a whirl of constant motion and character swapping.
In one of production’s funniest and most athletic sequences, on-field brutalities are physically blended with the birth of one of the Munster player’s twin babies in the nearby hospital. Rugby’s repertoire of low tricks – sly farts, crotch-grabs and worse – are faithfully rendered for our amusement.
A week or so into its long season, Alone It Stands unfolds with impressive grace. I found myself hankering for some sharper edges at times, some explosive jolts, but when one considers the cast have to do this eight times a week (twice on a Thursday), you have to accept that sustainability is a consideration.
That said, Alone It Stands is a winning entertainment, broadly appealing and good craic.
Alone It Stands plays at the Ensemble Theatre, Kirribilli, until 2 March.