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Alone It Stands

Alone It Stands
John Breen
Janine Watson
Ensemble Theatre
January 25 – March 2, 2024

You don’t need to know much about rugby to enjoy this warm, effervescent, funny rendition of an iconic match in 1978 between the formidable All Blacks from New Zealand and an amateur team from Limerick in Munster, Ireland.

It is a very physical play throughout, conducted much like an intense rugby match with its rolls, feints and scrums, and is just as speedy. As well as moving almost continuously, the six actors (Tristan Black, Ray Chong Nee, Briallen Clarke, Skyler Ellis, Alex King and Anthony Taufa) flip from character to character, with appropriate changes of accent, at a dizzying pace (an amazing 62 characters between them). Both actors and director (Janine Watson) can be congratulated on sustaining the admirable tautness of co-ordination and communication throughout the piece.

In the first half the cast is costumed in the trademark All Blacks sweaters, making a theatrical event of their pre-match warm-up while smiling and engaging with the audience – they exude the confidence and sense of focus with which top athletes awe their fans. They’re in cheerful mode, chatting as they go through their moves, the coach bawling the kind of energy-raising insults so well-known to lovers of the game. There’s a sense of their being relaxed about the forthcoming game – what’s there to worry about?  This is just an amateur village team … and of course, they line up to do the haka, a sight always thrilling to sports audiences with its ferocious foot stomping, fierce expressions and waggling tongues … yes, they were ready to tackle Munster!

After interval, it is the Munster team’s chance to show what they are made of – the cast, wearing team jerseys in an eye-popping red and going through their pre-match warm-up, are every bit as energetic and focused as their rivals. The only difference, of course, is their amateur status – as one of the cast notes, it is “a team full of nobodies, some dads, butchers, and farmers” pitted against the mighty All Blacks! Nevertheless, there appears to be every intention of giving their all in the game, the intensity reaching such a fever-pitch that one of the team has to remind them, “It’s only a game!” The intensity, however, gets fractured a little – the Munster team is on their home ground with the inevitable little intrusions of ongoing village life – the wife who goes into labour while her husband is playing, the posh spectators down from Cork, the rival groups of teen boys vying to see who could build the biggest bonfire, apparently a village tradition on Halloween night. Even the Munster team takes a breather midway as, in their role as the Bunratty singers, they serenade the River Shannon.

It could be said that both teams are in a relaxed state of mind, one confident of winning, the other happily confident of losing. And even as the goals pile up in favour of the Munsters, they still can’t believe they have beaten the All Blacks – but they do, with a score of 12-0 in their favour!

And with this victory Ireland goes mad with joy, a reaffirmation of national pride! For in 1978 the country was in a parlous state both socially and economically, and the nation badly needed such a euphoric moment – a David versus Goliath triumph for the underdog!

There’s lots to enjoy in this madcap romp of a play based on an event which probably rates as the Irish version of “Do you remember where you were when …?” There are plenty of laugh lines and the physical comedy is fast and exhilarating – it is most certainly worth a viewing!

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