Written by Tee O’Neill. Alan Jager in association with Hit Productions (VIC). The Athenaeum Theatre. Director: Terence O’Connell. 20 Sep – 14 October, 2012.

Aussie Rules football – ‘GUTS, DETERMINATION, FEAR’ – offer your coach Ron Barassi anything less and you’d better be man enough to cop a spray at half-time – a monstrous vocabulary served in your face with the kind of ferocity that just might send today’s sportspeople off for some therapy.

VFL/AFL player, coach and legend Ron Barassi expected his players to attack every game with the passion of a grand final. He stands for old-school; hard work, loyalty, principles, the kind of values that would ‘take a bullet for your mates’.

So old-school, that on New Year’s Eve in 2009, at the age of 72, Barassi rushed to the aid of a young woman being hit by a man, because “when you see a woman being belted up, you step in … it’s not right”. Unfortunately, the legend was knocked to the ground and kicked in the head. Unbelievable really. Times have changed.

Barassi’s story entails all the elements of an epic; humble beginnings, rising against the odds, incredible talent, and the heartache of love and loss. The play commences in World War II and culminates in the 21st century. It may sound like a lengthy chronology but it moves at a swift and entertaining pace, passing through several decades of Australian society, aided by the highly effective projected film of vintage Melbourne by Visual Designer Georgie Pinn.

Steve Bastoni embodies Barassi skilfully; perfect in sustaining the prolonged scene of grief at his father’s grave. Jane Clifton is brilliant and funny as the one-eyed ‘slightly’ jaded Collingwood supporter-come-narrator, and ex-Melbourne player Russell Robertson adds a touch of football glamour with a more than capable performance.

What is distinctive about this show is Alana Scanlan’s slow-motion choreography that captures the unique aesthetics of Australian Rules football, showing how players almost require the skills of ballet to fly for a mark or balance on their toes with a high kick. The fact that the actors look fit enough to be playing in a grand final assures authentic execution.

There is a sprinkling of famous football characters such as Jesaulenko, Syd Jackson and Capper. If you love football, you’ll love this show and have fun with the in-jokes. If you don’t love football, you’ll still enjoy it immensely.

This is an Australian story about a descendent of Italian immigrants who became a champion of an indigenous game, a hero for many who he still inspires today.

Karen Coombs

Photographer: Tony Rive.

Our Earlier Coberage.

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