The Underarm

Hawkins Theatre, Papakura, Auckland

16/02/2008 - 23/02/2008

Production Details

The Underarm – "it still stinks!"
Trans-Tasman comedy hits the Hawkins Centre

Papakura’s Hawkins Centre starts the year with the popular sporting comedy play The Underarm.

Already popular for dance, theatrical and school musical, performances, the Centre’s 300-seat air-conditioned theatre is this year embarking on an exciting programme of community and professional performances.

The Underarm, written by Justin Gregory and David Geary, is a two-person theatre production starring Christopher Brougham and Alan Brunton (Facelift), directed by Geoff Pinfield (Maui,  and The Magic Chicken), and written by David Geary (Lovelock’s Dream Run ) and Justin Gregory.

The show appeals to all ages and interests and tells the story of two brothers torn apart by conflicting views of the infamous 1981 cricketing incident during a one-day test between Australia and New Zealand.  Kiwi Col and Aussie Don are brothers, from a family split in two as a result of the most infamous act in sporting history – The Underarm.   Twenty-five years later, the brothers meet at a test match at the Basin Reserve to put on trial the man who ruined their lives – Aussie cricket captain, Greg Chappell, and to ask the eternal question – "Greg, what the $%!* were you thinking?"

On that day in 1981, Kiwi World Series hopes were dashed at the last ball of the match which was delivered by Trevor Chappell as an under-arm bowl, making it all but impossible to score the six runs required to draw the match let alone win it. 

The ball used in that delivery will be displayed at the Hawkins Theatre during the production’s season.

Hawkins Centre manager Graeme Bennett says the play captures the political and sporting overtones of its time: then-Prime Minister of New Zealand Robert Muldoon described the dastardly deed as "an act of cowardice".  His Australian opposite number, Malcolm Fraser, labelled it "contrary to the traditions of the game."  The play captures the comedy and farce of the incident.

Past and present New Zealand and English cricket players and administrators, along with the Beige Brigade and representatives from the Barmy Army are set to converge on Papakura for the Gala opening night on Saturday 16th February 2008, the day after New Zealand plays England in a one-day match, and throughout the remaining seven show season.

As part of the Counties Manukau Cricket Jubilee year a portion of all tickets sold throughout the Papakura season will be handed on as a donation to Counties Manukau Cricket Association Jubilee Year and also the NZ Cricket Players Hardship Fund.

Tickets for The Underarm are now on sale and can be purchased from Papakura Paper Power or by phoning 0800 4 TICKETS (0800 484253) or at  

Graeme is urging local people to book early as the show sold out at Tauranga Arts Festival and received rave reviews.

Christopher Brougham - Col

Alan Brunton - Don

Produced by Joe Fierce Presents and Performing Arts Internationally, and Graeme Bennett


Review by Nik Smythe 17th Feb 2008

As the audience convenes, a lost looking fellow clad in the distinctive old kiwi beige & brown hauls his chillybin through the audience calling out for someone  called ‘Don’.  If you’ve ever been to a live cricket match you’ll recognise the image.  You’ll also recognise the beer cans strewn through the stands/auditorium which, if you feel like further augmenting the nostalgic impression, you may be compelled to chuck down at the yobbos tossing about on the grassy knoll on stage, once they’ve located each other. 

The whole atmospheric effect is only slightly marred by the temperature in the theatre being somewhat less than that of your average summery cricket weather … although the setting is the Basin Reserve in Wellington, as depicted unmistakably by Caitlin Le Harivel’s set design: the high brown wooden outer fence upstage with a suggestion of a Pohutukawa drawn on it, the twee inner white picket fence and in between a curved mound of turf upon and around which the two actors are centred.

The respective uniforms may seem anachronistic, given that in 1981 cricket players wore whites for one day matches as well as tests, whilst the present day teams wear entirely different colours to the classic Kiwi browns and Aussie yellow and green.  Not to mention this play is set on the first day of a test match anyway, but it’s easy enough to believe the lads are dressing retro in the cultural spirit of the game.  In any case, for most contemporaries of the golden years of New Zealand one day cricket it’s the clearest image we can relate to.

The analogy between the characters and the countries is clear: Don (Alan Brunton), the abrasive, egotistical, irreverent Aussie against Col (Chris Brougham) the serious, nervous, sensitive younger kiwi brother.  Col’s chilly-bin contents include a mono cassette player, an inflatable kiwi and a Martinborough merlot.   Don’s four times larger ‘esky’ contains several slabs of beer and an inflatable kangaroo.  And his suitcase (fresh off the plane) contains the various props required in the role-plays that follow.

Justin Gregory and David Geary’s script is loaded throughout with classic snide invective cutting both ways; Don’s typically crass and merciless, Col’s more self-conscious and tactical.  The performance seems pitched lower (or should that be bowled shorter?) than usual, which I found unnerving at first.  However the impression of distance is largely due to the heckling, can hurling crowd and ultimately increases the sense of authenticity. 

It also increases the feeling that we’re watching the modern day equivalent to a Punch and Judy show.  Don doesn’t seem particularly phased by the fact that the vocal audience sides by and large with Col.  It’s a therapeutic opportunity for us to vent our grievance directly to the caricatures of those responsible, and I’m lead to wonder how well Col might cope before an Australian audience, given how sensitive he is and how much more vocal they would probably be.

The overall theatrical balance is well maintained, as at first we witness two brothers meeting for the first time in years at a test match.  As their debate on the subject of sportsmanship and the legacy of that fateful hot February 1st at the MCG in 1981 ensues, the audience are invited to be jury at the kangaroo-court trial of the accused, Greg Chappell.  Then the brothers call themselves to testify as various players, umpires and board officials, using vocal characterisations and rudimentary props such as gaffer tape for facial hair. 

Then the whole play comes full circle as we learn that the boys were not only present at the match in question, but that it was the final catalyst for the breakup of their parents’ tenuous marriage.  One took Aussie Dad’s side, the other took Kiwi Mum’s, and the rest is history.

The Underarm is more than merely a cricket-based Foreskin’s Lament.  For one thing it’s the first play I’ve seen where someone wins a meat pack (for naming a particular prominent Australian player of the time), plus many cans of the sponsors’ branded beer awarded for similar correctly answered related trivia questions.  What we have here is a wholly entertaining and thought provoking interactive dramatised socio-political study, with some Punch and Judy for flavour.

As for the verdict on the controversial issue under the microscope here, I’ll leave that for other jurors to debate.  Suffice to say there are compelling arguments on both sides regarding the moral worth of Chappell’s fateful decision.  The factor I find most fascinating is the tragically overshadowed stellar performance of Kiwi batsman Bruce Edgar, not out for 102 having batted for the entire 50 over innings, although it was Brian McKechnie who actually faced the fatal final bowl on his first ball.  I dedicate this review to Bruce and Brian.

And for lovers of historical artefacts, the actual ball played in the actual match is mounted and on display on the bar of the not un-sports club like foyer of the Hawkins Theatre.


martyn roberts February 19th, 2008

Can we call now call Chris Brougham 'Paddles'?

Justin Gregory February 18th, 2008

Damn right.

nik smythe February 18th, 2008

Thank you Justin, I have in fact witnessed the incident on youtube and shamefacedly realised my error, hence I came back to post this correction, only to find you beat me to it. It's all Kerry Packer's fault, obviously.

Justin Gregory February 18th, 2008

Hi Nik Sorry to be a cricket trainspotter - but then if I wasn't, David and I wouldn't have written this play - but in 1981, most teams were wearing coloured uniforms for one day internationals, and all were when playing in Australia, the practice having begun in the late 70's during Kerry Packer's rebel World Series Cricket competition. England held out untill 1998 (in fact, I watched the first ever game at Lords where the "pyjamas" were worn - and India succumbed around the same time. If you look at footage of the Underarm delivery on YouTube, both teams were wearing coloured uniforms, and in fact, the beige shirt worn by actor Chris Brougham in the production orginally belonged to Richard Hadlee and dates from 1981. You make a good point that they are somewhat anomolous at a Test Match, but it's all about building the picture and creating a spectacle, and as one of the characters in the play says, "It's all lies anyway". Cheers Justin Gregory.

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