Cheat of the moment

by Harry Ricketts / 18 November, 2006
What David Geary and Justin Gregory do in their play The Underarm, and it's a brilliant stroke, is develop the brother motif.

You know the story. February 1, 1981. New Zealand v Australia in a one-dayer. NZ needs six to tie off the last ball, No 11 Brian McKechnie facing. Aussie captain Greg Chappell orders the bowler, his younger brother Trevor, to bowl a daisycutter. He does; NZ loses. The most unsporting incident in cricket history since Bodyline in the early 1930s.

What David Geary and Justin Gregory do in their play The Underarm, and it's a brilliant stroke, is develop the brother motif. Brothers Col and Don - one Kiwi, the other Aussie - meet on the bank at the Basin Reserve for a present-day test between the two transtasman rivals. When rain delays the start of play (some neat voiceover from John Morrison), Col and Don decide to re-create the events of that fateful day at the MCG, inviting the audience to act as judge and jury. The result is an often hilarious potted history of the match with some well-directed leg-pulls at Aussie-Kiwi relations. Amid much fraternal sledging (plus booing and cheering from the audience), we also discover why Col lives here and Don across the ditch.

Alan Brunton's Don appears at first the epitome of Aussie swagger with his huge chilly- bin, flag and blow-up kangaroo. Christopher Brougham's Col seems equally stereotypical - the ultimate cricket nerd with packed lunch, tiny flag and those beige, one-day pyjamas. We soon modify these first impressions.

The two actors play all the other parts as well. So Brunton struts around as groin-stricken, blustering Greg and squeaky put-upon Trev. (Geary and Gregory show a keen relish for Aussie grotesquerie.) Brougham flicks through a scorecard of comic cameos including a haloed Bradman, a pouch-cheeked Muldoon, Rod ("Gissus a beer") Marsh, Richie Benaud with the "face like a blow-dried toad", and poor Martin Snedden, who caught Greg Chappell for 58 in one of the catches of the century - only for both Aussie umpires to claim not to have been looking. Perhaps best of all are Brougham's effortless transformations into 10-year-old Col, a funny and pathetic figure as he faces his brother's bullying and bouncers.

Geary and Gregory know their cricket. Not that you need to be a fan to enjoy The Underarm. But if you are, you'll appreciate to the full its heavily spun verbal leg-breaks with the odd emotional googly artfully slipped in.

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