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Alone It Stands
The Malay Mail
Much humour and drama in play centred on legendary rugby match
By Amir Hafizi

The most interesting poster outside The Actors Studio Bangsar features a series of letters between theatre producers Gardner & Wife and the Ministry of Culture, Arts and Heritage. It’s about Alone It Stands, a play from Ireland which Gardner & Wife brought to Malaysia.

The ministry objected to the use of several words and phrases in the script including the word ‘bastard’. Gardner & Wife finally managed to get approval for a replacement to ‘bastard’, which is, strangely, ‘sheepshaggin’.

So instead of saying ‘You dirty ol’ bastard’; you should now say ‘You dirty ol’ sheepshagger, you!’ which, I suppose, is considered more refined.

Anyway, animal love aside, on to the review.

Alone It Stands is the latest play from Ireland that Gardner and Wife have decided to bring to KL. The last one was 2004’s Stones In His Pockets. Alone It Stands is staged at The Actors Studio Bangsar until April 16.

Like Stones, the cast play multiple roles. This time, six people play up to 60 characters.

The list includes two entire rugby teams, supporters, kids, a dog and even a few earthworms.

The whole thing revolves around a piece of sporting history – when the amateur Munster team in Limerick, Ireland, defeated the best rugby team in the world at that time – the New Zealand All-Blacks in 1978.

However, far from being all about sports, Alone It Stands spreads its focus to the lives of the supporters, as well as writer-director John Breen’s own experience during the fateful match – a kid trying to build the greatest bonfire in Ireland.

This could be quite misleading, and if you don’t listen carefully, you may just lose the plot. The first half of the play is quite confusing as the cast establish the characters.

The switching of roles – which sometimes is not signalled – say by a change in body posture or lighting, is quite hard to follow until they begin to speak and the dialogue reveals who the characters are.

Among them are the All-Blacks and the Munster team, practising for the match. Some hilarity here as the performers act out caricature-like representations of the rugby players.

There are also a few kids collecting tyres and wood, who interact with two couples from an uppity part of the town.

The more interesting pair of characters includes two supporters who con the grieving family of a dead man of two tickets to the game. One of them has a pregnant wife who goes into labour just as soon as the game starts.

There are also some bar singers thrown in for good measure.

The fun starts when the game begins.

The many characters introduced now begin to fit into the play with the Munster supporters and one All-Black fan being the most entertaining.

In fact, some of the scenes are downright hilarious, especially when the woman starts giving birth to twins, with the game’s commentary juxtaposed during the labour. Since this is in part the re-enactment of a piece of sporting history, moments of drama are also rich for portrayal. The game on the field is presented quite well to capture the energy, passion and grit – complete with slow-motion action.

There was also much ado about the legendary tackle of 11-stone Seamus Dennison on All-Blacks heavyweight Stu Wilson.

The problem is that if you’re not a rugby fan, or not familiar with Irish socio-politics of the game, chances are you would not be able to enjoy this play to the fullest.

The rivalry with a nearby rugby club, as well as the reason the kids want to build a bonfire (it’s All Hallow’s Eve) is not apparent for people who are not well-acquainted with Irish culture.

The Irish lilt could also be a problem, though the cast made a good effort in slowing down their delivery.

Unlike Stones In His Pockets, most of the things said by the actors can be understood by those not familiar with the Irish accent. It would have been so much clearer if Alone It Stands had done away with a few of its characters, like the bunch of kids with their bonfire story. It doesn’t really contribute anything to the story except an atmosphere of festivity.

But there are plenty of human touches, like a death of the father of one of the Munster players as well as the birth of the twins.

Despite Breen’s assurances that Alone It Stands is not a play about rugby, only a rugby fan can enjoy all of the story’s nuances. But the ordinary man in the streets of KL will have to look beyond the issues of language and peculiarly Irish references. Still, it’s not a bad watch.