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Barracking for the Umpire - Black Swan Theatre Company

Reviewed by Kate O'Sullivan


After the original season in 2022, Barracking for the Umpire sees a remount at Subiaco Arts Centre. The season runs until 5 May, after which it will then head off on a regional tour to Albany, Broome, Esperance, Geraldton, Karratha, Mandurah, Margaret River and Port Hedland. It's a 90-minute, no-interval show, making it perfect for a weeknight or a drink and a chat post-show.

The story is a true slice of life, with relatable characters and banter that really drags you into the setting. The characters are recognisable and lovable for being so, regardless of whether we like their behaviour at any given moment. Of particular note is the sibling dynamic built between Jo Morris as Charaine, who never left Donnybrook and Ian Wilkes as Ben, the big sports star who's come home. Pippa Grandison and Steve La Marquand's relationship as Delveen and Doug also pulls on your heartstrings and keeps us rooting for them right the way through. The use of the "Coach" as the embodiment of the bravado and toxicity that can surround sports like Australian Rules Football, really brings home one of the core issues - well portrayed and embodied by Joel Jackson.

The set is a wonderful snapshot of a regional Australian house, down to the blanket on the back of the couch. The set is also well used, with nothing feeling arbitrarily placed in any way, with particular nostalgia attached to the fold-out bed. The substantialness of the set does make some of the smaller scenes (in the airport, in the sporting club) feel a little out of place, as the living room set is still ever-present and partially lit in the background, but on a thrust stage like that of Subiaco Arts Centre, there isn't a way to segment the stage differently. The lighting and soundscape enhance the story, with particular acknowledgement to the video projections, which all work together to build tension and emotions, especially later in the show. The costumes feel like they have been pulled from the characters' wardrobes - lived in, comfortable and realistic.

This story will pull at your emotions in ways you may not expect. It is especially poignant, given some of the current discussions in the media around the AFL and Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE). The performances are well crafted and had several members of the audience reaching for their handkerchiefs, the emotional buttons having been pushed to the point of breaking. The ending is by no means uplifting, but it hammers home the point and, from observation of some of the foyer chats after the show, had people thinking well into the trip home.

A show well worth the time to go and see. My WAFL-Life-Member father, who attended with me, remarked after the show that he would not hesitate to recommend the show to all and sundry. And if that's not an endorsement that will get you down to see this show, I don't know what is.

Steve Le Marquand (Doug Williams) and Joel Jackson (Coach). Photo by Daniel J Grant.

Reviewer Note: Kate has worked with a member of the cast before, in 2007. Tickets for this review were provided by the theatre company.


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