Ensemble Theatre is thrilled to present Irish playwright John Breen’s heart-warming comedy Alone it Stands, later this month. A ballsy, true tale of triumph over impossible odds on the field, and based on the famous 1978 rugby match in Limerick, Ireland, this David vs. Goliath story follows the all-amateur Munster rugby team as it tackles the mighty New Zealand All Blacks.
For actor Ray Chong Nee, the play itself is muscular, funny, heart breaking and an actors’ playground. “It requires physical, emotional and mental agility with 62 characters played by 6 actors, numerous accents and gear shifts in the space of a few seconds, and it can turn on a dime from humorous to complete devastation before your eyes,” says Chong Nee who plays multiple characters ranging from a 10yr old child to a more mature gentleman. “It’s deceptively a mammoth task and I (and this talented cast) love a challenge.”
Chong Nee and director Janine Watson have been trying to collaborate for some time, so, for Chong Nee, it is serendipitous that they embark on this wonderful piece, in conjunction with making his debut at the legendary Ensemble theatre.
Amongst his multiple characters is Irish Rugby legend Tom Kiernan, who extensively played international Rugby, but at this time (of the game) was the coach of the team.
“He had been a part of the team that almost beat the All Blacks in ’74, so he knows that is possible, as such he pushes the team, and rouses them to victory like a Hollywood blockbuster,” says Chong Nee. “Outside of the game, a group of youths are getting ready for a massive bonfire (we think All Hallows Eve), the most important day of the year, lead by one of the characters I play – Spider. Their storyline follows an event equally as important to the match, but very domestic. Stage productions allow for your suspension of disbelief, and being able to play an elder of that community and a youth is a gift.”
Heralding from true events in a time when a nation was enduring civil unrest, and the weight of despair rife, the win by the Munster team ignited a renewed sense of hope in the people of Ireland, especially in the southern parts of the country. “Consequently, there are so many themes it would take too long to name them,” says Chong Nee. “Australia loves a battler story where overcoming the odds seems impossible and this play executes that narrative very well; David being Munster and Goliath being the All Blacks. It also examines the lives of those that weren’t at the game, but how the ripple of the game changed them forever.”
Chong Nee describes his experience in the rehearsal room as so much fun and credits Watson for casting such a wonderful bunch of creatives. “We are able to play more, laugh louder, go deeper into character, and create moments that are truly affecting,” he says. “There is such a beautiful balance of comedy and pathos. With no props or set to move and just 6 actors, it is going to be a joy to show our no-frills craft as actors, and to let the audience use their imagination in the telling of the story every night.”
Chong Nee says he is stoked to be a part of Ensemble’s season 2024 and blessed to be with five other extraordinary players who inspire the best of him onstage. “If the rehearsal room is anything to go by, the show is going to be something not to miss, He says.”
As an actor, Chong Nee finds a parallel between working in the theatre to a live audience and sports saying, “Like sports, and in this case rugby, the players feed off the energy given from the spectators.”
He opines that theatre is not complete without the audience that come to watch. Without the patronage, it’s just a bunch of people doing wonderful and crazy things in a room. For a moment in time in a theatre space these crazy, wonderful things and characters create moments of inspiration.
Filled with as much heart and excitement as a nail-biting rugby match, this hilarious story will have sports and theatre fans cheering for the ultimate underdogs.
Says Chong Nee, “The Matildas’ united our nation in the World Cup just as much as The Munsters’ did in Ireland in this play. How do you tell that story with six actors…? It has made me belly laugh and well up with tears…you will have to come and see it yourself to experience the magic.”
January 25 – March 2