Saturday 28 January 2017

The Helendale Nude Footy Calendar review

A local football club has run out of funds and is at a loss of what to do. "What is it that we have that people want?", laments one footballer shortly before taking off his top and showing off his toned body. And so The Helendale Nude Footy Calendar adventure begins. However, there are two other parallel stories occurring in two other country towns: at Karandah Heads, two locals encounter a celebrity staying at a caravan park, and at Galshank, a gay high school student tries to figure out what it is he wants. Presented as part of this year's Midsumma Festival, the three stories in The Helendale Nude Footy Calendar explore sexuality, relationships and love, and the different ways these can present themselves.

Helendale - the most fleshed out of the three stories (pun intended) - focuses on Angus (Chris Edwards) who secretly (and maybe not so secretly) swoons over footballer Mason (Guy Talon). Edwards is well cast as the shy, nervous and incredibly sarcastic Angus, with his body language and mannerisms bringing to the surface his anxieties and desires. The support cast does well with their characters and are given the opportunity to show multiple sides of their personalities. They're not just footballers but also friends, brothers, boyfriends, etc. etc., and Sam Nix as Angus' brother, Tom is a great example of embracing this chance for strong character development. There are scenes of bravado when Tom is with "the boys" talking football but there are sincere moments when speaking to his brother about life and reaching for the opportunities it has to offer.

Over in Karandah Heads, Reef (James Hardy) helps run his mum's caravan park when a highly awkward and not-out teen Curtis (Linus Tolliday) arrives with his family. The two form a friendly bond until a world famous celebrity (Wil King) arrives to stay and subsequently throws their lives into chaos. Tolliday is perfect as Curtis with his awkwardness and stammered speech and Hardy puts in a great performance of someone who has put walls up so high that he has completely closed himself off from meeting anyone.

Galshank, looks at a group of schoolboys all dealing with their impending adulthood and attempting to figure out who they are. Conor (Patrick Cook) is in love with his gay best friend Heath (Dean Robinson) who is more interested in experiencing life, which includes an interest in his English teacher, Jack (Jack Matthews), who also happens to be Conor's stepfather. While Helendale and Karandah Heads have a clear focus in their stories, Galshank falters a little, stretching itself thin in sharing too many stories and perspectives.

At the root of all these stories are loneliness and the fear of being alone. All the characters are searching for a connection with someone in a way that befits him, and writer Jake Stewart explores this truthfully and honestly. Stewart also has a great eye for comedy and while there are many laughs to be had, he ensures the heart of each story is not lost. A scene in Karandah Heads for example, surprisingly transforms into an initially jarring farce that eventually comes together in further exploring the state of mind of its characters. It is refreshing to see that in no story is there a character struggling to come out or to accept his homosexuality. Furthermore, no characters in any story have issues with being gay, most notably in Helendale with heterosexual footballers treating Angus the same way they would treat each other - and even openly talking about Angus' sexuality in a positive way.

Stewart also directs the show and he manages to create some evocative moments on stage. There are instances where characters from one town seemingly acknowledge the presence of those from another, building on the shared experience of loneliness and love. Stewart's use of the space to tell these three stories while having eleven performers coming on and off stage is executed smoothly and the transitions between the stories never distract or remove you from the moment. 

The Helendale Nude Footy Calendar is a moving yet entertaining exploration at what people will do - or not willing to do - in order to connect with people, to love someone and to be loved in return; intelligently wrought, and performed with warmth and appeal.

Click here to read my interview with Jake Stewart. 

Venue: Bluestone Church Arts Space, 8A Hyde St, Footscray
Season: until 4 February | Tues - Sat 7pm
Tickets: $24 Full | $19 Conc
Bookings: Midsumma Festival

*Original review appeared on Theatre Press on 27 Janury 2017.

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