|Hoke's Bluff at Arts House|
I don’t watch sport very often, but when I do, I often think of it as a kind of theatrical event. There’s drama on the field, on the court and on the ice. There’s a crowd invested in every movement and every shot at goal. Athletes are trying to give the best performances of their career every time they appear in front of their audience and fans.
Sporting heroism is at the heart of Hoke’s Bluff by British performance group, Action Hero, currently in residence at Arts House in North Melbourne. They’ve transformed the main room of the Town Hall into a stadium with bleachers and a court that resembles a basketball court, but the sport we cheer could be anything.
There’s a mascot and a cheerleader. There’s an umpire and a coach. And sportsmen going through tough training regimes, assaulted by a torrent of clichés and inspirational quotes. Small Town USA telling its young men that they can be the greatest; their young women cheering from the sidelines.
The repetition of the script, devised by performers Gemma Paintin, James Stenhouse and Laura Dennequin, is in turns energetic and trying. The writing fixates on certain turns of phrase and then tries out a myriad of reconfigurations. Small town kids are dreaming about the future, but the rote commands of coaches and teammates and friends almost guarantee they will go nowhere.
The sheer implausibility of becoming a professional athlete never enters their mind; they strive to achieve and escape their mundane existence.
The trouble with Hoke’s Bluff is that it’s stuck in this routine and we don’t learn much about the central characters. They are stuck on the treadmill and the audience is right alongside; it’s not enough we are occasionally brought into the action by feeling like we’re part of the team or the roaring crowd, we must care about who wins and who loses.
We were encouraged to cheer, like we might at a sporting event, but not much in the show itself left me wanting to applaud these writer/actor/athletes. Not even for their awesome physicality and commitment.
Hoke’s Bluff is oncourt until Saturday night only. Action Hero is at Arts Centre this week and next with two other shows.