The Club has been making Australians laugh for more than forty years. The show tells the story of a footy club on the brink of change and the infighting between the old and new guards. It’s about the bad haircuts, bushy moustaches, short shorts and even shorter tempers of the men working behind the scenes.
But Adelaide independent theatre company isthisyours? has decided to flip the script. Under the direction of Tessa Leong, an adaptation of The Club – performed as part of State Theatre Company South Australia’s 2019 season – has been reworked to kick-off a comedic conversation surrounding gender politics in 2019.
Tessa Leong and isthisyours? haven’t touched the script but are drastically changing its presentation. Three female actors– Louisa Mignone, Ellen Steele and Nadia Rossi – play the six power-hungry male characters. However, Leong revealed to InDaily that there are other deviations too.
Most noticeably is that the males change setting and sex somewhere in the play.
“The majority of the beginning of the play is interrogating what it felt like for female actors playing men to say those masculine words,” says Tessa. After that, Leong says a “transformation” occurs for the characters – they don’t remain in the 1970s as themselves.
She says the cast and production team made this decision collectively after trying to examine what this play means for women playing these roles.
“To be perfectly honest, these characters cease to be comedic in the way they were originally intended because we don’t recognise those same people as women,” says Tessa. In the hands of isthisyours? The Club is still funny. But funny in a radically different way.
“These characters are the epitome of very Australian, masculine men who speak with that vernacular, and it’s not a transportable language.”
“Language is often placed in time and place, and this is very much placed in the 1970s for these men who are very Aussie.”
By revamping The Club, isthisyours? has thrust a narrative of female involvement in sports, the arts – and generally the present – to centre stage.
“Obviously it feels like we’re at a time in the world where there may be a huge groundswell and conversation around gender politics – and around structures and systems that don’t benefit women and don’t benefit anyone but men,” says Tessa. “And I guess we’re in a process of unveiling and uncovering so many systemic problems within work culture and on the sporting field.”
While sports and the arts are seemingly binary opposites, the struggles of females in these fields can share similarities. Tessa says the opportunities against women in theatre are observed in the inequalities of power.
“The main stage companies across Australia have seven men and one woman,” she says. “Opportunities in the industry have always been weighted towards men.”
The social media trolling of Carlton forward Tayla Harris couldn’t highlight Tessa’s message more. While the AFL created the female league in February 2017 to elevate female participation, some members of the public seem to protest female involvement – as exhibited in the derogatory comments aimed at Harris.
Citing both these examples as issues of gender inequality, Tessa says audiences are now waking up to women’s involvement.
“I think the world is really having a conversation with a theatrical history and a sporting history,” she says. “I think people across Australia are ready to have that dialogue.”
The acerbic wit and ridiculous costumes of isthisyours? can help too.
“The very fact of these three women playing these six male characters in The Club naturally starts to pose questions about what that comedy is, while keeping it alive with lots of stupid wigs and moustaches.”
“Shoutouts to the women of the AFLW who are paving the way not only for women in sport, but for women in the arts.”
The State Theatre Company South Australia is presenting The Club from April 5 – 20.
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