The Space, The Arts Centre Gold Coast | July 9 – 18 2015
Reviewed by Katy Cotter
In 2004 founder of Zeal Theatre, Stefo Nantsou, was asked to create a piece of ‘contemporary theatre reflecting the experiences of young people in regional communities.’ The company ran workshops at numerous high schools that revealed common issues surrounding sport, alcohol and drug abuse, unemployment and small town rivalries. Nantsou took these stories, transforming them into a play for three actors.
In collaboration with Shock Therapy Productions and The Arts Centre Gold Coast, The Forwards is both hilarious and heart-wrenching, focusing on the Pintoon Parrots, who have made it to the AFL grand final.
The whole town has come to support their boys, in particular the three stellar kickers – Rabbit, Hoges and Tractor. It all begins the night before the big game when everyone is partying hard. The narrative follows the three kickers as they struggle with the pressures of being the best and denying the temptations of alcohol, drugs and reckless behaviour.
The audience is first introduced to Julie, Rabbit’s girlfriend, both played by Ellen Bailey. Julie is worried that Rabbit’s fascination with drugs will jeopardise his chance to prove his sporting talent. Bailey moves between the two characters with ease, playing Julie with a captivating sensitivity that has the audience hanging on her every word, and then switching to the hot-headed Rabbit who keeps his hands in his pockets and eyes to the ground. Hoges (Sam Foster) and Tractor (Hayden Jones) are Rabbit’s best friends and the relationship between the three changes drastically. Foster and Jones, founders of Shock Therapy Productions, are two extremely skilled actors who completely immerse themselves in the physicality of their characters. Jones also plays the role of the Coach, and anyone who grew up watching their brothers play footy, will recognize that Jones’ portrayal is spot on.
There are so many comical characters the actors portray which display their versatility and help build the image of an entire town.
Nanstou and co-founder of Zeal Theatre, Rob Dilley, made cameo appearances as some of the townsfolk when they weren’t playing the musical score for the show. Situated at the back of the stage, Dilley kept the beat on the drums while Nanstou played guitar. Their presence doesn’t pull attention away from the action happening on stage. They keep their focus on the actors and remain within the world of the show.
Nanstou’s performance as Julie’s Dad is distressing and the symbol of the coke can is one I won’t forget.
Zeal Theatre is known for their style of physical theatre and it is one of the play’s greatest strengths.
The choreography of the football game has all the drama and physical finesse as the real thing, and is accompanied by a high intensity drum solo by Dilley. Although some of the sound effects made by the actors and the use of mime were sometimes unnecessary and distracting, the commitment to every movement throughout the entirety of the play made it difficult for the audience to disengage. Without giving too much away, there is a scene where a series of repetitive gestures spoke louder than words, and this is a true testament to Nantsou’s direction. The scene was far more emotional and engaging without dialogue, leaving the audience to fill in the silence with their own experience of grief.
The Forwards explores themes of friendship, betrayal and the disastrous ramifications of binge-drinking.
The story has a perfect balance of drama and comedy and must be told so that history is not repeated. The unbelievable pressure put upon young people to succeed is a harsh reality and the current sporting culture we have in Australia cannot be ignored. You have to be the best otherwise you’re nothing. The Forwards remind us that the upmost importance is nurturing and encouraging our young athletes in positive ways. Season must finish Saturday.