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alone it stands @ the ensemble : a bit of theatrical magic

Ray Chong Nee, Anthony Taufa, Tristan Black in ‘Alone It Stands’ at the Ensemble. Pic Prudence Upton

Stories can be told in countless different ways with varying success. One of the main challenges that a creative artist has to take on is which artistic platform that they want to tell their story. For writers they can choose, most popularly, between the printed work, songwriting, dance, television, theatre, musical, opera or cinema.

Irish creative John Breen turned his focus to adapting a great David versus Goliath type of true story which has become part of Irish folklore. Famously there was a rugby match that took place back in 1978 in Limerick, Ireland between the all amateur  Munster rugby team and the touring, all conquering New Zealand All Blacks. Against all odds the Munster team won in a close, scraping match.  The Munster rugby team were heroes just for one day!

Breen choose theatre as his artistic platform and with his playwriting skills, it’s a choice that works like a dream. One can’t imagine the story working better in any other way.

Breen has the story performed with just six actors who between them perform some 62 roles including some of the players, their wives, enthusiastic fans, the coaches and even a loyal local dog.

In his program note as the Ensemble Theatre’s Artistic Director Mark Kilmurry wrote that he saw Breen’s play in the late 90’s and ever since has wanted to program the play in a subscription season

“I loved Breen’s play and was struck by the way the characters are so beautifully drawn and created in a few gestures, a physical rendition and a snatched line, which is then coupled with all the high energy and heart fluttering moments of a big sporting clash.”

The success of a play such as ALONE IT STANDS, written in such a theatrical vein, rests on the strength of the production. This Ensemble production, the first for 2024, is energetic, colourful, vibrant. Janine Watson direction  is assured and the cast are superb. I  decline to  single out one performer. They,  Anthony Taufa, Ray Chong Nee, Briallen Clarke, Skyler Ellis and Alex King, are  all excellent.

The work of Watson’s creative team, principally Emma White’s  set and costume design, Matt Cox’s lighting, Jessica Dunn’s original score and sound design, cultural consultant Tiana Tiakiwai and  fight director Tim Dashwood, brilliantly support the actors in creating the special experience that audiences get to enjoy.

The show is engaging throughout. My favourite parts; a memorably menacing  performance of the All Blacks ‘Haka KA MATE’, and a clever subplot involving one of the Munster players and his very pregnant wife.

He is confronted with a serious dilemma. Does he stay home with his wife in case she goes in to labor or will he go and enjoy his mates in this once in a life opportunity and play against the All Blacks?! No guessing what he decides…

Many of us love a feel good underdog tale, and this Ensemble production hits the sweet spot.

John Breen’s ALONE IT STANDS is playing the Ensemble Theatre, 78 McDougall Street, Kirribilli until 2 March  2024. Tickets $40 up to $88.

Production photography by Prudence Upton





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