It was the Summer of 1981 – Australia vs. New Zealand – Aussie captain Greg Chappell instructs his brother Trevor to bowl the last ball of the match underarm and on the ground creating the biggest controversy in cricket ever – the underarm bowling incident of 1981.
This is the story of two brothers ripped apart by the most infamous act in trans-Tasman sport. When the Aussies committed what Rob Muldoon later described as ‘An act of cowardice appropriate to a team that wears a yellow uniform’, not only did The MCG ignite but Colin and Dons’ drunk parents exploded in a violent separation that led the Kiwi Mum to drag Colin, screaming, off to live in Wellington, NZ leaving Don to marinate with Dad at home in Brisbane.
The play has had a monumentally successful season in NZ with actor Christopher Brougham reprising his role as Colin here. Brougham and Colin have had a very lengthy relationship with the actor clocking up close to 125 performances. His love of the two hander and playing the character is palpable describing Colin as a repository into which his brother Don heaves all manner of insult and injury. “So there’s a great deal of patience and resilience he’s had to show, both as a younger brother when they were kids, and now as an adult, ” he says. “As a two-hander, the play bounces back and forth a lifetime of unresolved family issues, and as such is an enduring and evolving story. So each new season adds more distance between the brothers’ separation as kids and their reunification in the present day. And with the writers continually updating the script, there’s always new surprises and twists to add to what is already a fascinating insight into sibling dysfunction and that keeps the show fresh, and engaging for me. Not to mention that this time I’m working with a new Australian actor in his home country, which is adding greatly to the realisation of the tension the show so deftly explores.”
As adults, Don and Colin are reunited at the Basin Reserve in Wellington, and put on trial the very man responsible for their separation – the Australian cricket captain in 1981, Greg Chappell. But the hijinks soon turn serious when the scab’s ripped off their troubled past and the focus shifts to the real culprit: which parent was responsible for their lost childhood?
Both brothers grapple with some fairly serious questions and both carry their own baggage under the mask of something else. Brougham describes Colin as “…an anal retentive, buttoned-up civil servant who I’d probably run a mile from at a party.” But the realization is soon made that he’s simply hurt. “Hurt from years of separation from his Aussie brother and desperate attempts to reconcile him with their mother. So beneath his stoic and pragmatic exterior is a world of pain that is going to explode dramatically during the play. So I respect the fact that he’s doggedly loyal, determined, yet deeply exposed.”
The brothers have more to digest when the story reveals a recently deceased dad and a terminally ill mum. So while The Underarm is about cricket, the play, at its heart, is not.
“But what better way to unearth the greatest challenge these two brothers face than to mirror their rivalry in sport,” states Brougham. “The New Zealand/Australia dynamic is unique. So alike, yet worlds apart in many ways. One thing we do have very much in common is an ungodly desire to whip each other in any sports code. The writers very cleverly interweave the Chappell brothers dynamic with that of Don and Colin. Their childhood is reflected in the history of the Anzacs. Their often brutal rivalry played out on the cricket pitch. And with a universal story of family division and an insufferable parenthood bubbling underneath the sledging and good-natured banter, there’s plenty to be left thinking about as you leave the theatre.”
Multi award winning NZ actor, Brougham, is thrilled to be here and has been working for a number of years to get this show across the Tasman, because, he feels, it’s a play that Australians need to see as much as Kiwis. “These brothers define us as nations. The anticipation of the audience dynamic here is tantalising. And I can’t wait to walk into that theatre with my little blow up Kiwi and see just how good you are at getting what you give.”
The Alex Theatre
March 4 and 5