Cricket: Emotion of Blair's story brought to stage

Actor Jonny Brugh prepares for his play The Second Test which opens at the Fortune Theatre tonight. Photo by Craig Baxter.
Actor Jonny Brugh prepares for his play The Second Test which opens at the Fortune Theatre tonight. Photo by Craig Baxter.
It is a story of love, loss and courage, and actor Jonny Brugh tells it with barely a prop in sight, let alone another performer.

It is also Bob Blair's story and it is one of the most poignant moments in New Zealand sport.

Shortly after learning his fiancee, Nerissa Love, had been killed in the 1953 Tangiwai railway disaster, the grief-stricken Wellington pace bowler joined a heavily-bandaged Bert Sutcliffe in the middle during the second test against South Africa.

A profound silence fell over the large Ellis Park crowd as Sutcliffe wrapped his arm around his team-mate and accompanied him to the wicket.

New Zealand lost the test but the pair won the country's admiration with their sheer courage and glorious counter-attack.

For Brugh, capturing the emotion in his play The Second Test, which starts at the Fortune Theatre tonight, was a huge challenge and its success hinges on his ability to draw the audience into the story with believable portrayals.

"I pretty much just try and play the emotion out with full sincerity and let the audience decide how to feel," he said.

"I've met Bob Blair and spent some time with him when he came and saw the play in Wellington. It was emotional and traumatic for him the first time he came and saw it.

"I didn't ask him how it felt [to lose his fiancee] because that just seemed like a stupid question. I'm old enough to have experienced loss."

Brugh (40) switches from a stoic man who is fighting back his emotions to a dozen or so other characters during the one-man show which lasts just over an hour.

He plays a highly excitable cab driver called Boy who is the world's biggest cricket fan, a generic South African character called Hanse de Villiers, the great Otago and New Zealand left-hander Bert Sutcliffe and he even plays Blair's fiancee.

"It sounds like chaos but it's not," Brugh said.

"It is a craft that I've learnt. The characters are not all performed at once; they are in small groups so it is not confusing."

Amazingly, Brugh uses precious few props.

He is in period whites, of course, and there is an old valve radio in the corner and a chair which comes in handy now and then.

Other than that there is nothing to hide behind.

He does not even have a cricket bat for all that shadow batting.

The audience does not seem to mind and all that practice hitting an imaginary ball has had an unexpected benefit.

"I'm in the form of my life, man. I'm averaging 49 at the moment," the left-hander said.

The Auckland-based actor cut his teeth in the comedy duo Sugar and Spice and helped write, and performed in, the play My Brother and I are Porn Stars.

He has also had television roles on the Jaquie Brown Diaries and made a cameo appearance on the long-running New Zealand soap Shortland Street.

He wrote The Second Test and has been performing the play since 2008.

He will perform 18 Dunedin shows during the next few weeks.