Inspired by her own family’s love of and experience with footy, Andrea Gibb’s debut work as a playwright Barracking for the Umpire explores the wide-reaching impact of AFL on its players and their families.
The story, presented by Black Swan State Theatre Company, centres around Donnybrook’s greatest footballer Doug Williams, who’s experienced a fair few head knocks during his playing career. His club wants to honour him so his family, including three adult kids, is reuniting to join in the celebrations.
Playing Doug’s two adult daughters are Jo Morris as Charaine and Ebony McGuire as Mena. The sisters are in two very different places in life says Jo, “Charaine is the eldest daughter and has chosen to stay in Donnybrook and build a life there, whereas Mena has moved.”
Ebony explains that Mena has moved out of Donnybrook to pursue dreams that relate to AFL. “Mena is a sports journalist but I think if she were born male she would have tried her best to be a footy player like her brother. Mena absolutely loves and idolises the game.”
Their differences also extend to their opinions on AFL with Charaine not sharing in her family’s enthusiasm and love for the game. “If football were the church that this family prayed in, my character left that church when she was eight. She is the only person in the family who isn’t deeply passionate about the game,” Jo explains.
Barracking rehearsals Ian Wilkes, Jo Morris, Emily McGuire. Photo by Daniel J Grant
As the sisters and their high-flying brother, who’s a pro footy player, unite in Donnybrook to celebrate their dad, it’s evident that something isn’t right with him as he shows signs of CTE (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy); resulting from the many concussions he experienced through his footy career.
Coming from a family with a strong football background, Ebony says the play has made her more aware of game’s physical and mental repercussions on its players. “My eyes have been opened to the seriousness of head injuries and the impacts that rough games can have on an individual. It’s a bit of a reality check.”
Having this family at the centre of the play is something that Jo says, creates a greater connection for audiences. “Audiences will fall in love with these people, and I think that is the best way to ask or challenge these kinds of political or cultural questions. It raises these questions and ideas in a way that is incredibly heartfelt, personable, and familiar.”
“It’s definitely an amazing time for this story to be premiering for these voices to be at the forefront of, hopefully making us think about how we want to move forward as a nation and how we want to treat these people who put their bodies on the line,” she adds.
Williams Family. Photo by Daniel J Grant
Barracking For The Umpire was originally set to open in March of this year but was delayed due to COVID-19 restrictions. Both Jo and Ebony say they’re eager for audiences to finally see the play. “I’m excited for audiences to see it. I know that sounds quite simple, but it’s just such a beautiful story and you will fall in love the family!” says Ebony.
Jo “couldn’t be prouder” of playwright Andrea for creating her first play through a program facilitated by Black Swan. “You’ve got to give props that this play came about through a program that was initiated by Black Swan called ‘The Funny Girl Program’. It gives a platform to mid-career comedic voices because they recognise that this demographic isn’t heard that much in Australian playwriting.”
She adds that her favourite part of the show is the love shown on stage, “One of my favourite bits of the show is that you see at the forefront an older couple, a couple in their 60s, and they are deeply in love. That is not something you see a lot on stage. On top of that you have these incredible fully fleshed out female characters.”
Barracking For the Umpire presented by Black Swan State Theatre Company runs from October 7 to October 23 at The Subiaco Arts Centre