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Advice that cricket and theatre do not mix did not deter playwright Justin Eade from mixing two of his favourite things. Rebecca Fox finds out how a play about the drama on a cricket pitch came about.
Mention match-fixing, sledging and dodgy bowling to a cricket fan and the conversation is likely to get heated quickly.
But it is exactly that passion and enthusiasm cricket fans have, even around the more controversial aspects of the sport, that got playwright Justin Eade thinking.
A fan of the age-old sport himself, Eade was on the edge of his seat as the match-fixing scandals of 10 or 12 years ago played out.
"New Zealand team mates didn’t know who they could trust," he says.
While a serious topic for some sports fans, Eade could see its potential comical side and could not resist seeing if the scenario could translate into a play.
"I know of a lot of people in the theatre who love cricket, so it seemed to me to be a quite good arena for drama," he says.
"The pitch in the middle, in a pressure-cooker situation with a billion people in a television audience."
That was despite "theatre people" telling him cricket and the theatre do not mix well — even an Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice musical, Cricket, commissioned for Queen Elizabeth’s 60th birthday, got shelved after a couple of performances.
Determined to show otherwise, Eade put pen to paper and came up with a storyline where two Kiwi batsmen are at the crease, neither trusting the other, nor the umpire, yet they are clocking up the runs to win the game — the final in a World Cup against Australia.
"It’s a farcical situation as all the people in the middle accuse one another of trying to flip the game while still moving forwards to a result. I thought that could be a comical premise for a play."
As a keen cricket viewer himself, he has always been curious as to what is being said between batsmen on the pitch.
"I love cricket. So I was like ‘What if you could be privy to what they’re saying?’."
The biggest challenge in writing 67 off 52 was keeping in mind not all of the audience would be cricket fans.
"How do you make it accessible to audience members who do not know or understand cricket — you need the drama to sweep people along, the characters and comedy," he says.
The play got a good response when it was first staged in Nelson some years ago, even with those audience members who did not follow cricket.
"They kind of got into it."
His works cover a variety of genres including historical such as the Wairau Affray, about a clash between Maori and Pakeha colonists in 1843.
"I hope to tour it further afield as it’s a New Zealand history topic not many people know about," he said.
When he was contacted by Dunedin amateur theatre director David Thomson asking if he could stage his cricket play at Dunedin’s Globe Theatre, he was more than happy to give permission.
Thomson has already staged two of Eade’s other plays, including one of his other comedies Central Otago Man at Mosgiel’s Fire Station Theatre. Eade attended the showing and was impressed by his work.
"David is a good director," he says. "I trust David to do a really good job."
Thomson is also full of praise for Eade’s work, saying his plays are well-written and accessible to a New Zealand audience.
He also sees 67 off 52 as a way for the Globe to give back to the local community. It plans to give a donation to junior cricket as a thank you for the loan of the cricket gear needed for the production.
"It’s nice for art to give back to sport."
Thomson has pulled together a cast of actors, many of whom he has worked with before, — Zac Henry and Warren Chambers who play New Zealand cricketers with a long-standing feud, Matt Brennan as the long-suffering South African umpire, Sam Mehrtens as the sledging Australian wicket keeper and Campbell Thomson as the Kiwi number 11.
It has not been easy for the cast, who not only have to learn their lines and when to deliver them, but also hit the ball and run at the right times.
"It’s been a lot of fun to direct. The guys are all easy to work with."
Helpfully, Campbell has played cricket so has been able to give pointers on the right way to do things.
"I’m sure we’ll get some criticism from the hardcore cricketers, but it’s theatre so you’ve got to use your imagination," Thomson says.
In the script the commentator is recorded, but Thomson is taking on that role live, believing it adds more to the show.
He has also gone to great lengths to make the set and costuming believable by borrowing real cricket gear from Cricket Otago and creating a small but convincing cricket "oval" on the Globe’s stage, complete with white picket fence.
"It’s not a very long pitch — they’ll be running very slowly, but that adds to the humour."
There will be advertising hoardings, a commentator’s box on the back wall and one of the Globe’s regular actors Aaron Richardson, who is quite tech savvy, has created a computer scoreboard.
As is fitting for any Australian v New Zealand clash, the flags of each country will also be present.
Very aware of the Omicron Covid outbreak in the city, Thomson is hopeful the public will continue to support the theatre, which has the full range of restrictions in place to ensure everyone’s safety.
The play is also only an hour and a-half long with an interval.
"It’s our first play of the year so we’re hopeful we’ll get the support to continue to do more — we have a good season planned," Thomson says.
67 off 52 Globe Theatre, Dunedin, March 10-19