Cremorne Theatre, QPAC
May 31, 2018

Following seasons in Townsville and Cairns, Queensland Theatre brings to QPAC a show full of Far Northern heart. Written by Robert Kronk and Nadine McDonald-Dowd, directed by Bridget Boyle, and co-produced with debase productions and JUTE Theatre Company, The Longest Minute centres around the spectacular final minute of the 2015 NRL Grand Final, and everything leading up to that point.

Chenoa Deemal and cast members of The Longest Minute. Photographs supplied courtesy of Queensland Theatre

Jessica Wright (Chenoa Deemal) was born into a Townsville family of footy fanatics on the night of the NQ Cowboys’ first game at Stockland Stadium. Jess’s talent and passion for the game carry her through many difficult times, but as a girl she is often overshadowed by her brother Laurie (Jeremy Ambrum), who is also talented but much less interested in playing professionally. Their father, former Foley Shield player Frank ‘Black Flash’ Wright (Mark Sheppard), continues to relive his glory days through Laurie’s achievements, and Jess is often left behind or overlooked. The underdog story of the Wright family parallels that of their beloved footy team as Jess navigates sexism, racism, and family tensions, only to get back up and run at her dreams again.

The audience (many of them wearing Cowboys or Broncos supporter jerseys, scarves, and hats) entered the Cremorne Theatre to a mix of Aussie hits – Johnny Farnham, AC/DC, Daddy Cool. The event around which The Longest Minute centres – Johnathan Thurston making up for a missed conversion by kicking a field goal in extra time and sealing the Cowboys’ first premiership win after 20 years – needs no narrative embellishment. The premiership win could not have been scripted better as a breathless, suspenseful minute emblazoned on the history of the club and its supporters.

However, the work explores much more than the unwavering support of the Cowboys’ fanbase, addressing sexism in sports, racism, ideas of identity and culture, and the pervasive gossip of a small town (or city). It also showcases the more light-hearted elements of footy culture – superstitions including lucky eskies, the local celebrity status of the players, and the hero worship of Thurston.

Design by Simona Cosentini and Simone Tesoreri, lighting design by Jason Glenwright, and sound design/composition by Kim Busty Beatz Bowers really turned this production up to eleven. The flashing lights and soft, thumping sounds as motion slowed, and the illumination of the ‘field’ as Jess explained the plays, drew the audience more completely into the suspense of the moment. The single set was also cleverly used, with the changing locations lighting up the scoreboard and the year shown in the centre showing how time was flashing by as the family, and their team, grew and changed.

Deemal is so fiery, passionate, and easy to like in her role as Jess Wright, the audience were on her side from the first moments. They felt her frustration as she was forced to play second fiddle because she was a girl, and they celebrated her triumphs and felt her sorrows with her. Sheppard had a strong stage presence as Frank, resembling everyone’s footy-mad dad/uncle/grandfather yelling at the game despite one or two minor slips in dialogue, and Louise Brehmer showed a full range of emotions as his down-to-earth wife Margaret. Ambrum and Lafe Charlton both brought a quiet gravitas to the stage as Laurie and Uncle Gordon, respectively, and David Terry aptly switched between a variety of characters in the ensemble.

The dynamic of the Wright family is incredible. From the celebrations and sibling rivalry to the division of support in a marriage, and ugly words said in anger, they feel like a very real family. This element of authenticity is constant throughout the work, with every light touch speaking of a wholehearted understanding of the place and people being represented – the good, the bad, and the ugly.

The attention to detail makes this a truly great production. The accuracy of the plays and the commentary of the iconic moments, the image of Laurie and Jess sliding and scrambling up and down the stadium hill in Townsville, the cruel words thrown between kids on the footy practice field, the outrage at having to pay 10c for sauce on your pie – these are the small things that are amplified and valued, that form the heart of the work as they are woven in between the big events. The audience of opening night were on their feet applauding before the lights even came back up on the stage, many with tears still in their eyes.

This is a play clearly made by football lovers, but it is about so many things that are bigger than the game, and performed with so much authenticity and sentiment. The Longest Minute is the perfect storm of theatre and sports, and will move you to tears and cheers.

The Longest Minute plays at QPAC, Brisbane until June 23, and at the Pilbeam Theatre, Rockhampton, on June 28