Outside Edge

(Brisbane Arts Theatre)


The history of cricket is a proud one. Its traditional heritage evokes images of moustachioed gentleman enjoying a polite game on a sunny English afternoon. But let’s face it those days are long gone. With match fixing allegations, underarm bowling and Shane Warne’s antics peppering the game, modern cricket is more soap opera than sport.

In Outside Edge the cricket takes a back seat as personalities collide when a group of amateur cricketers, whose drinking and smoking habits put Warney to shame, get together with their wives and girlfriends for a “friendly” match at the village oval. Team captain Roger (Paul Careless) rushes around the clubhouse obsessively wondering if his team of volunteers is even going to turn up for a game that seems to have more riding on it than the Ashes. His demands and complete lack of attention test the patience of wife Miriam (Sandra Harman) as she gets the tea ready for the big match, but the real problems begin when the others arrive.

The chauvinistic Kevin (David Bell) is caught between nursing an injured spinning finger, his raison d’etre, and stealing the relationship pants back from his overbearing wife Maggie (Linda Novicky). Bob (Steve George) has his mind on affairs outside the game as an unexpected visit from wife Ginnie (Jessica Loudon) drives him to drink.

Dennis (Robert Montgomery) slimes around the club with the finesse of a car salesman as he boasts about the 10% discount he got off the price of new cricket gear. Alex (Clint Bolster), an impossibly selfish young solicitor, arrives with shy girlfriend Sharon (Marissa Bennett) in tow but seems to care more about the switches in his flash car than her.

Outside Edge is promoted as “a cheeky British comedy” and writer Richard Harris, who has written for television shows such as “A Touch of Frost” and “The Saint”, has produced a script full of double entendres and quick witty jokes in the traditional British style. Unfortunately, the execution of the jokes on stage often let down Dale Murison’s version of the play.

In her directorial debut for the Arts Theatre, Ms Murison has gathered together an impressive cast of local actors who do a commendable job of bringing the play to life, but many of the jokes, such as the double entendres about “balls” and “long innings” shared between Miriam and Maggie seemed to miss the mark in their delivery.

That said, the play has some delightful characters adding life to a script that relies on cleverly worded jokes more than the physical comedy. Linda Novicky, as the equally loveable and scary Maggie, rules the first half of the play with her well-observed London accent telling the middle class cricket wannabes exactly how it is.

Sandra Harman puts in a terrific performance as Roger’s long suffering wife Miriam. Her descent into jealousy and suspicion of Roger is executed beautifully by Harman and builds for a great ending.

The character of Bob, played by the excellent Steve George, really becomes the unlikely hero of the play in the second half although it could just be that his pathological hatred of solicitors and drinking problem struck a chord with me in particular.

I was laughing for a long time when, with a cigarette hanging out of his mouth, he blames the telephone for his marital problems and says “I wonder how much of that misplaced passion would survive if you had to write it down and put a stamp on it”. This is very prophetic stuff if you are Shane Warne.

The rest of the cast do a fine job with convincing performances bringing their own source of mayhem to the social cauldron that is the local cricket club. Each character, no matter how major or minor, manages to leave an impression on the audience with their unique mixture of endearing traits and personality disorders.

Outside Edge obviously contains the right elements for laughs as the success it enjoyed on stage resulted in a spin off movie and television series. However, the Arts Theatre production has taken the play back to simple arrangements with a small and efficient set design letting the cast move around stage freely. Attention to detail is there in spades: the orange peels littering the stage toward the end are testament to that.

Outside Edge is a fun play and the jokes on relationships will recommend it to a wide audience. But for me the style of comedy is often rather laboured, especially in a time when so much of light entertainment is about shock value and physical jokes. In that sense, it may not appeal to people who think Kramer from Seinfeld is the funniest person on the planet.

However, if you appreciate a cleverly written joke and have a soft spot for the quirky affectations of English societal characters, then this play will definitely work for you.

— Toby Walker
(Performance seen: Thu 18th September 2003)