Suzie Flack has eschewed “women’s” sport for the real, original, men’s league of AFL. She has always been as good as the boys, ie better than the girls, and she wants her chance to prove herself as the first woman to ever play for the men’s team. Fierce is a complex examination of gender, bodies, ability, and want within the all-Australian realm of professional sport.
The gender binary in sport represents some fundamental understandings and agreements our society and culture have about gender: what roles, abilities, and bodies belong to each person. By asking to play with the men’s league, Suzie (Lauren Richardson) is challenging much larger notions than guernsey colours, and its the consequences of this upset status quo that she must face alone.
While masculinity and gender in sport have been explored on stage before, or in other arenas, as well, Jane e Thompson’s script takes a particular focus on the body as the centre and source of being. When Suzie was a child, her sporting ability was attributed to her body as though it couldn’t be both this talented at sport and female; a mistake that was her responsibility to prove or explain. She prepares herself for the field with mantras about the size and power of her body because, for her, the battle lines have been drawn on her body: the ways it is different from the bodies around her. When this year was chosen as a year to regurgitate the arguments against trans people in professional sport, the psychological examination of gender essentialism provides nuance for both the individual and systemic lens through which we discuss gender and bodies as separate and indivisible aspects of being alive.
At the same time, the script and Janine Watson’s direction of it emphasises the layers of obstacles that Suzie’s body presents when put into majority masculine spaces and the impact extenuates further than the field or locker room. This production unflinchingly asks questions like what does gender equality really look like and what is the best way to achieve it? Is it better to be separate and equal or together and different? Suzie’s individual story certainly doesn’t provide the answers but it reaches toward an argument for disruption and dissent rooted in a personal political perspective.
Richardson is engrossing as a young woman trying to find her feet and make sense of what she believes to be right. The peeling back of Suzie’s character from an aggressive show-off down to the deepest seeds of insecurity and unanswerable want displayed true vulnerability. Her relationship with her teammates (Felix Johnson, Andrew Shaw, and Zelman Cressey-Gladwin) and coach (Martin Jacobs) are raw and often difficult to watch for the perpetual imbalance of power. But Suzie’s characterisation also involves more complexity than femininity aping masculinity as seen in the tenderness of her relationship with her father (also Jacobs) and an escort who she feels safe around (also Johnson).
The set from Melanie Liertz made simple use of the black box space in recreating largely sleek or utilitarian locker room or club locations. The stripped back design with back-lit panels and a guernsey-esque logo on the floor allowed the placement of bodies to dictate tone, particularly in a cleverly choreographed bathroom scene. The script’s moments of almost poetic mantra and introspection allowed for more dramatic lighting and sound design (Kelsey Lee and Ben Pierpoint) than a typical realism play. Of note was the surprise Justin Bieber dance routine which drastically deflated the tension of gender relations in the football team and resonated throughout the rest of the production.
Fierce is about the social and cultural rules that everyone imbibes, and which dictate who is allowed to do what, and what it would mean to break them. Suzie’s determination to decide what she wants and how she is seen while doing it has untold repercussions for the destabilisation of the status quo. This production offers a distillation of the issue of gender inequality without simplifying or essentialising the nuance or complexity.
Fierce is running at the Old Fitz Theatre from March 20th – April 13th