Murdoch’s story conveys strong themes

Barbara Frame
Barbara Frame
Keith Murdoch (who died last month) took being an All Black to extremes, writes Barbara Frame.

Being good at rugby was part of it, of course, but so were boorish and violent behaviour and never saying sorry. A fight with a Welsh hotel bouncer in 1972 tipped him into disgrace and self-exile in Australia.

This is the stuff of Finding Murdoch, Margot McRae’s play about about a journalist’s search for him in 1990. Jane, whose character is based on McRae herself, manages to track Murdoch  down (this is not a spoiler) but finds herself having to make an almost impossible decision.

Rugby culture, and its tendency to make celebrities out of oafs, is a strong theme. The media, too, come in for a hammering.

In the early ’90s New Zealand television finally abandoned any but the thinnest pretence of public service, and among the play’s characters are cliche-spouting executives who, comfortably unencumbered by ethics and decency, automatically prioritise advertisers over viewers. Director Andrew McKenzie succeeds in bringing to life a script that could easily get bogged down in its own words. Sofie Welvaert is a great choice as Jane, a young and ambitious journalist tough enough to challenge the boys’ games that go with the job, but too human to want to play that game to the end.

Peter Hocking does a great job as smooth-talking producer Geoff, and Paul Ellicott is fascinating to watch as the ex-All Black himself, still a bit thick but with hints of a more than minimal emotional range. They are ably supported by Richard Huber, Campbell Thomson and Warren Chambers, versatile in a range of smaller roles, and special mention must be made of highly effective lighting  designed by Brian Byas.  Not having any particular interest in rugby, I was less than enthusiastic about seeing a play about it, but this accomplished production changed my mind completely.


Finding Murdoch

Globe Theatre, Dunedin, Thursday, April 26 

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