BARASSI THE STAGE SHOW until 5 May at the Fairfax Studio, Arts Centre, Melbourne.
I am one of those people who has never been into football but who has occasionally been impressed and surprised by those of my friends and colleagues who are. Impressed because the commitment they exhibit is awesome. Surprised because I get to have my snobby prejudices well and truly challenged.
I once dated a nice bloke for a full month before a blathering Collingwood fan and friend of mine pointed out my date was a former well-known VFL player.
But then terrific writers like Martin Flanagan and Gregory Day do manage to unearth the poetry and power of Aussi Rules so that even dire-hard anti-sport-tragics like myself may be moved.
Barassi The Stage Show by Tee O’Neill is less an exploration or investigation into the sport itself but rather an uncritical celebration of ‘Australian football legend’ and ‘Icon’ Ron Barassi.
In its return season – it did pretty well last year- Steve Bastoni as Barassi-the-elder has been replaced by Chris Connelly, and Jane Clifton replaced as the play’s (loud) mouthpiece/ narrator, Melba, by Odette Joannidis. Initially neither of these new cast members appears all that comfortable in their roles. Although Connelly, a fine actor but essentially miscast, does a great job finally of pitching the Barassi killer-instinct against the man who has never quite reconciled the early loss of his father to the killing fields of Tobruk. Joannidis, too, as the personification of the game’s ancient tribal loyalty eventually relaxes into the role having got off to a shaky start.
Barassi is a review-style mix of the cartoon and the corny and is at its best when the fast-paced bluster and backslapping are relieved with moments of delicious slow-mo-footy-style-choreography, the occasional barbershop crooning and the infectious energy and simpatico of Chris Asimos as the young Barassi and Matt Parkinson’s well-paced and credible rendition of Barassi’s surrogate father and coach Norm Smith.
It’s tough to write about someone who is still around – particularly someone as media savvy and switched on as Barassi – and O’Neill and co are nothing if not reverential of the great player, big personality, coach and failed furniture salesman.
Overall O’Neill does a solid job of this straight-up and engaging bio-show and the cast and direction all serve to keep the ball in the air for the most part.
This show is not my cup of tea. But who cares? The opening night audience appeared to enjoy it enormously.