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  • Writer's pictureAlex First

37 (MTC), at Southbank Theatre, The Sumner - 95 minutes, without interval

Updated: Mar 10

A Premiership at what cost? Indeed, is snaring the feted trophy the be all and end all?

 

The Cutting Cove Football Club, located in a small coastal town, has never won a flag, but it hired a coach known as The General (Syd Brisbane) who has.

Photos by Pia Johnson


He took on the job three years ago and maintained that he could help the club lift the Cup by his fourth year, 2015, which is about to start.

 

Last season Cutting Cove dipped out in the Preliminary Final to the team that would go all the way.

 

Now it has recruited two indigenous boys, the speedy and skillful Jayma (Ngali Shaw) and his older cousin, Sonny (Tibian Wyles), 28, who is not too shabby either.

The latter is married with three young children and could certainly use the money that comes with his signature.

 

Jayma’s father was a champion footballer, who went walk about when he had a chance to play in a Grand Final.

 

After an awkward initiation, fellow players appear to embrace the new talent, recognising they could well be the missing pieces to bring the team ultimate glory.

 

Around heavy training sessions, there is a great deal of horsing around. The testosterone in the room is palpable.

Captain Joe (Ben O’Toole) forms a firm friendship with the Aboriginal lads, inviting them home for a drink and a feed.

 

But then racism raises its ugly head, courtesy of another player, Woodsy (Eddie Orton), whose family is a club benefactor.

 

A cultural awareness course fails to right the ship either.

 

Thereafter, Adam Goodes' war cry dance, directed towards Carlton fans at the SCG during Indigenous Round that year, divides Cutting Cove players.

The play’s title is derived from the number Goodes wore on the back of his jumper.

 

Woodsy makes another intemperate remark and matters escalate from there.

 

Any sense of “we’re all in this together”, which is what the coach has called for, is shattered.

 

37 is part of MTC’s NEXT STAGE Writers’ Program, which helps develop new Australian works.

In this case, MTC commissioned Trawlwoolway playwright Nathan Maynard’s story of Marngrook cousins.

 

The play is humourous and then incendiary, as laughter is stopped in its tracks.

 

The piece starts with an explanation of how Australian Rules Football came to be, through a game played by First Nations peoples with a ball made from possum skin.

 

No scores were kept. They played purely for the fun of it.

Maynard has deliberately stirred the pot and lifted the lid of blatant and latent racism.

 

There is a great deal of boys’ own football culture imbued into the script too, with liberal doses of swearing and sexual innuendo.

 

As clever and creative as 37 is, it takes a while to really take off … to get to the nitty gritty.

 

The full extent of the drama isn’t realised until about two thirds of the way through.

By then, the tide of bonhomie has well and truly been lost.

 

Leading from the front in terms of performance is Ngali Shaw, whose mood shifts are integral to the effectiveness of the production.

 

Shaw’s Jayma goes from happy go lucky to devastated.

 

He is one of 10 in the cast.

 

Syd Brisbane channels the gusto of your archetypal football coach.

 

Mitchell Brotz revels in political incorrectness as foot in mouth clubman Gorby.

In fact, in his writing, Maynard has made sure we get to know a little about the background and proclivities of each of the players, along with their spirited coach.

 

37 has been well choreographed in terms of player movement by director and co-choreographer Isaac Drandic, alongside fellow choreographer Waangenga Blanco.

 

Overall, staging is another highlight, enabling the actors to – at times – bring the action closer to the patrons, which works well.

 

The piece has much going for it in terms of raising the temperature of the conversation around equality and Indigenous issues.

 

Ninety-five minutes without interval, 37 is on at Southbank Theatre, The Sumner until 5th April, 2024.

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