Anna Lall’s new play, Love Taps, deals with mateship, reverence for the game of AFL football, and masculinity.
Love Taps (the title refers to the euphemism for strategic acts of surreptitious violence acted on the field during a game) is a naturalistically presented drama about five men – three players, their coach and a housemate, meeting in a bar after a winning match. There are tensions but bromance will prevail. We meet Nigel, the gruff but tender-hearted coach defined by his loyalty ‘his boys’ and the game, Gavin, the serious star footballer with insight, the limited blokey wisecracking homophobic Mitch, the urban low-key gay, Lee, and Jesse, the dignified gay footy star who’s about to drop a bombshell. So, we’ve got men covered. They’re all honeys, even Mitch, as it turns out. But nice guys finish last, the saying goes, especially on stage. The single woman, Wanda, is a worldly bar tender who does an about turn with the obnoxious Mitch and helps him redeem himself via her feminine love and understanding. Yawn.
Lall doesn’t want to offend anyone and so dilutes her show by too much confluence, despite the surface differences between the characters. A couple of really nasty characters would have seasoned the whole thing and raised the stakes considerably. What Lall does is take an issue – the coming out of gay footy players – and makes it stand in for a genuine drama between individuals. Only these characters are not individuals, they’re types. Love Taps offers a Disneyfied version of male culture where the pugnacious man is tamed by some good talks and the understanding and generosity of a knowing woman.
Only a couple of the actors actually look like football players, which is slightly distracting. I didn’t buy the conversations between the men, either – they were all so articulate and self-aware and spoke about how they felt with such sincerity that the play killed with obviousness. The themes and issues and conflicts are all spelt out, talked through and thrashed out. Everything happens on the surface so there’s nothing for the audience to work out for themselves, wonder about or fear. There’s a pretend stake involving Mitch ‘coming round’ which doesn’t make sense.
Love Taps is entertaining enough and the performances are solid, albeit it varied. Most convincing are Shannon Wollard (who also directs) as Lee, JD Ness as Mitch and Katherine Innes as Wanda, the barmaid with the heart of gold. Where the play succeeds is in its humour, some excellent one liners and a pace which, despite the schmaltz, picks up towards the (rather drawn out) finale. In other words, Love Taps is a soap opera. It will please many and challenge nobody.
La Mama presents
by Anna Lall
Directed by Shannon Woollard
Venue: La Mama Courthouse | 349 Drummond St Carlton, VIC
Dates: May 29 – June 8, 2014
Tickets: $25 – $15
Bookings: www.lamama.com.au | 03 9347 6142