Rebel recall

Rebel Tour (Stephen Vagg)

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Brisbane stories are great theatrical fodder. And although Stephen Vagg’s “Rebel Tour” is an Australian tale, the recall of Springbok rugby union protests that it evokes, gives it a special resonance for Sunshine staters. Rather than rugby union, however, the aptly-titled fictionalised account is about the ‘rebel’ cricket tours to South Africa in the early ‘80s, presented in a rehearsed, public online reading as part of UQ Theatre Festival online as a night at the theatre with Anywhere Festival.

The context of the controversy is given early on for those perhaps too young to remember the era; due to the Apartheid system of institutionalised racial segregation in South Africa, international sanctions means that the International Cricket Council has placed a moratorium on international cricket teams undertaking tours of the country. Enter a group of rogue Australian cricket players recruited at the behest of the South African Cricket Board for a so-called ‘Rebel tour’ to the African nation to play a series of matches against the South African team.

Far from being a cricket tragic like those terry-towelling-hat-wearers on the hill, Charlotte Greg (Cindy Nelson) hates the sport. Her interest as new executive at Packer-owned PBL Marketing is to get the job done. Young Australian Cricket Board executive, Ray Taylor (Ryan O’Connor) has more idealistic ambitions, especially given his connections with the players. Having been dropped due to his poor form, for example, ex-captain (Robert Wainwright) only needs one more great innings to return to glory. And an Ashes contract amendment about not singing agreement with other cricketing bodies, has everyone worried, especially with players being approached with big blood money (or security, depending on your perspective and if you want Kerry Packer as an ally or enemy… because while the ACB runs cricket, it is Packer who pays the bills). Mike Whitney and Greg Matthews have said no, and Thommo has changed his mind and while the Australian team has taken a continued hit, losing six tests in a row, players like Steve Waugh are on the horizon.

Thanks to the achievement of the capable cast in inhabiting the story’s distinct characters, the play moves quickly (a little too quickly perhaps), but without any real script climax to wallop us along; a rushed meeting is called because someone has to take the fall, although for the cricketers, the message remains clear… do the tour and never be picked again.

Familiar figures feature throughout, not just from the sports world with mention of then-lawyer Malcolm Turnbull as Packer’s adviser. Even so, audience members don’t have to be familiar with the era to be entertained by the work. In fact, this probably adds to the appeal as its revelation of the political scene of the time and epilogue as to the consequences, are, in themselves, interesting. And a well-placed nod to the notion of women’s cricket gives an added resonance. Just as 2017’s “Joh for PM” illustrated, defining parts of our history are the perfect subject matter for our theatre and with that in mind, one can only look forward to hopefully seeing the work on stage soon.