Barracking For The Umpire – A Profound Blend of AFL and Family Drama

Barracking For The Umpire Rating

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Barracking For The Umpire, presented by the Black Swan State Theatre Company, will strike a chord with every AFL fan, player, and parent. In this quintessentially Australian family drama, we’re drawn into the lives of the Williams family, posing the poignant question: what sacrifices are we prepared to make for the love of the game?

Doug Williams, celebrated as Donnybrook’s greatest footballer, is the embodiment of resilience—tough and steadfast. His loyal wife, Delveen, has stood by him through countless challenges, witnessing each impact of the game on him. As the local club prepares to present Doug with a lifetime achievement award, their children return home to celebrate. Yet, as the festivities unfold, the once reliable hands of this legendary player ominously begin to falter.

On entering the theatre, the stage transports us to Donnybrook, specifically the Williams’ family living room steeped in 1980s decor—a decade that marked the peak of Doug’s illustrious football career. The space is authentically adorned with a well-stocked bar, doorways that hint at a bustling household, and walls lined with family photos that speak volumes of shared memories. A coffee table, cozy blankets draped over a well-worn couch, and a back-wall display case cum bookshelf contribute to the room’s lived-in feel, wrapping the audience in the comforting embrace of a family home.

The production superbly uses lighting(Lucy Brikinshaw) and video effects(Michael Carmody) to facilitate smooth transitions from the family living room to the football locker room—a sacred space residing solely in Doug’s memories. As the spotlight dims on these ephemeral glimpses into the past, the stage’s ambient sounds and lighting subtly recede, reorienting the audience to the present moment where Doug, though momentarily disoriented, is prompted back into the present by a worried family member.

The cast expertly brings the characters to life, making them authentic and believable.

Ben (played by Ian Wilkes), a Noongar man, is a current-day AFL footballer dealing with all the pressures that his high profile brings and harbouring a deep secret that he never wishes to become public. Ben, away from the pressure of AFL footy, is a relaxed and laid-back character who wants to play footy and toys with the idea of revealing his secret to the family. Some family members wonder why he is single, although hints of a relationship occur. Some of his stage exits and entrances show a worried Ben trying to find out about the health of a recently concussed teammate.

Mena (played by Ebony McGuire) is a journalist who wants to make her mark in the world but chafes in the shadows of her father and brother Ben’s football careers. She is interested in telling a story to make her way up the journalistic ladder, but possibly at the expense of her brother’s wishes. One scene, in particular, highlights the dog with a bone journalist in her as she interrogates her brother about the need for a particular story to be told.

Charaine (played by Jo Morris) is the stabilising influence amongst the three siblings. However, her own life is going through a rocky patch with her recent breakup with her boyfriend. Her calm demeanour quickly changes whenever her ex-boyfriend enters the scene, as her Mother has mortifyingly invited him to visit after a family dinner. This leads to some comedic hijinks that work well to balance out the drama of the relationship.

Tom (played by Michale Abercromby) is an MC and Charaine’s recent ex-boyfriend who worships Doug and Ben, vicariously living through their football deeds, making the men somewhat uncomfortable. His devotion to the family footballers creates friction in his relationship with Charaine, which he strives to repair. Tom also brings some lighthearted comedic moments at awkward moments that relieve the tension of the family dramas at play.

Doug (played by Steve Le Marquand) skillfully plays the family patriarch, but he unfortunately experiences increasingly recurring episodes from his declining health. A famed local footballer in his day, he is highly respected by the family and community alike. When surrounded by his family, he is quick to exchange friendly barbs and banter as well as anyone else, but when left alone, he becomes lost in his surroundings.

The Coach (played by Joel Jackson) also doubles as Eckhart, an AFL football player and Ben’s teammate. These two open the play with an energetic start, as the opening tune of Up There Cazaly fades to the background, being in the locker rooms post-game and bantering about life and their just completed match. Joel spends most of the play existing as the personification of the Coach, who only exists in the recesses of Doug’s fading memory. His entrance onto the stage signifies moments where Doug loses his grip on current-day reality and relives some of the traumatic moments of his football career.

Football fans will delight in numerous lines delivered by the inspirational coach, no doubt causing them to reflect on their football careers no matter how humble. Football afficionadoes will recognise many famous football quotes that have gone into folklore, including John Kennedy Senior’s immortal lines: “Do Something. Don’t think. Don’t hope. Do.”

Costumes designed by Sara Chirichilli have been selected with great care and attention. The Coach’s costume channels Tom Hafey’s iconic style, complete with a snug Adidas T-shirt and classic short shorts, perfectly capturing the aura of 1980s football. In the opening scene, the footballers Eckhart and Ben sport authentic football guernseys that set the stage for the action. The rest of the cast’s wardrobe is thoughtfully chosen to reflect a casual, comfortable attire that one might find in any relaxed family setting. This naturalistic approach complements the home’s 1980s vibe, seamlessly integrating the characters with their environment.

Andrea Gibbs’ debut play is a beautifully crafted story that feels quintessentially Australian. With its rich themes and relatable characters, ‘Barracking for the Umpire’ is set to become a favourite among theatres across Australia for many years to come.

Director Clare Watson has selected a winning team with this cast and crew, who have all kicked winning goals here. Together, their efforts successfully showcase what is destined to be a classic Australian play. I rate this play five stars out of Five, and I highly recommend you see it while you have the chance. Don’t think—do see this show.

Barracking For The Umpire is playing at the Subiaco Arts Centre from 23rd April to 5th May. After that, the cast and crew will take this play on tour across Western Australia to the following locations and dates:-

Port Hedland – 11th May
Broome – 18th May
Karratha – 23rd & 24th May
Geraldton – 29th May
Mandurah – 1st June
Margaret River – 15th June
Albany – 6th & 7th June
Esperance – 12th June

This review also appears on It’s On The House. Check out more reviews at Whats The Show to see what else is on in your town.

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