Jasmine Griffiths Reviews Blank Slate’s “Aussie Rules”

Posted on May 15, 2013


Writer/Director Andrew Keegan’s satire Aussie Rules, takes a wry look at Australian culture and identity while observing the hypocrisy of what we perceive to be the “Aussie” way of life. Genuinely funny comedy is incredibly difficult to write. Satire is even harder—it has to be clever, sophisticated AND funny. Aussie Rules doesn’t quite reach this level, self-consciously and obviously seeking out laughs and, sadly, never quite hitting the mark.

After a sex tape of Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott is released, an election is called and the AFLP (Australian Football League Party) runs for and subsequently wins every seat in Victoria. This quickly spirals into absurdity as Victoria breaks away from Australia to form it’s own Independent Republic, “The Nation of Eureka”. Aussie Rules follows three siblings, Dave (Tom Carmody), Ambah (Emily Downie-Kempson), who passionately embrace the AFLP, and black sheep, Chris (Rory Kelly), who refuses to subscribe to the football-oriented Commandments developed under the new power.

This premise is far-fetched and Keegan is undoubtedly aware of this. Carmody, who plays Dave, has said that “it’s just an analogy, it’s a ‘what would happen if…’ play…” However, I am unsure as to whether this “what if” is something that works in the play’s favour. The ridiculousness of it accelerates out of control in a very short period of time, with little concern for cause and effect. I am happy to go along with any absurd hypothetical—but I want to have sound reasons for doing so. We are given answers, but I never fully understood why exactly it was necessary for the AFL to create their own party. Why exactly did they run in the election? Why do football-loving bogans suddenly become passionate about who is running the country? Why? Why? Why? Keegan has said of Aussie Rules that he wants theatre to be something that makes people think and ask questions. In this way, Keegan has succeeded—but I wonder if these are the sorts of questions that Keegan actually wants us to ask.

Blank Slate's "Aussie Rules", Guild Theatre, 14 - 18 May @ 7:30 pm.

Blank Slate’s “Aussie Rules”, Guild Theatre, 14 – 18 May @ 7:30 pm.

The play is clever, it has some interesting and relatable observations about Australian culture and it is Keegan’s depiction of ignorance that is most amusing. Unfortunately, what is clever is not always funny and the show lacks a real punch, “oomph” or “zing” that could  make this show “a bundle of fucking laughs”. The observations are almost not subtle enough, “fucking boat people” can only be repeated so many times before we tire of it and wait for something new to be said. For Keegan, the play is a “black comedy”. But for a black “comedy”, the second half of the play is thoroughly bleak and all light-hearted mockery we have previously seen is lost.

There is lack of development of the interpersonal relationships within the play. No strong connection is created between the siblings – I would not have known that they were related, had it not been mentioned. Furthermore, none of the characters are particularly likeable (we don’t care about them) and when shit really hits the fan, I was honestly pretty unshaken—it was neither funny nor sad. This could have been a stylistic choice by Keegan, but in this case it would have been more powerful to have characters that were more relatable, dare I say “realistic”, to ensure the ending left a real impact.

Keegan’s script is strong, however wordy. Lines are delivered quickly and actors stumbled over wordy sentences more than once. The acting, overall is solid; however, words are spurted out in an overly rehearsed manner that lacks absolute conviction. There are a couple of very strong performances—Ella Pouton stands out as reporter Coleen Davies and her ability to change between numerous characters is impressive. Morgan Petrie is also greatly engaging and charismatic as the aptly named Demetri Andrews.

Keegan’s direction is very Brechtian; characters weave in and out of news reports, advertisements, interviews and real life interactions. We are encouraged to be aware of the fact that we are indeed watching a play and Keegan invites us to “take charge as a member of the audience”.

I admire what Keegan and his company, Blank Slate, has aimed to do: to create a piece of theatre that empowers the audience to “Feel, Think, Change!”. At its heart, Aussie Rules is a really interesting idea and has the potential to be a really strong piece of theatre. The play could really benefit from more thorough development of characters, and from a little work making the jokes subtler. It would also benefit from a clear direction of what it wants to be and what it is exactly that it wants to communicate. Despite all of this, Keegan has achieved what he set out to do—make the audience think.

Jasmine Griffiths is You’re Dripping Egg’s newest contributor. Jasmine is a writer, stage manager and enthusiastic theatre-goer. You can read more from YDE on Melbourne University’s student theatre here.