Legend! Slips Cordon: A Safe Pair of Hands – history re-written by the cheeful rabble. (Theatre review)
Legend! ‘Slips’ Cordon – A safe pair of hands
The Old Fitzroy Theatre
Decorum in association with The Sydney Independent Theatre Company
“(Australian) Citizens know that some among them will have more power and money than others… But according to the unspoken national ethos, no Australian is permitted to assume that he or she is better than any other Australian. How is this enforced? By the prompt corrective of levelling derision. It has a name—The “Tall Poppy Syndrome”. The tallest flowers in the field will be cut down to the same size as all the others. This is sometimes misunderstood…It isn’t success that offends Australians. It’s the affront committed by anyone who starts to put on superior airs.” Peter Hartcher
In cricket, a group of slips, collectively a “slips cordon” are charged with the task of catching out any batsman able to sneak past the wicket keeper, used for the speed bowlers rather than the spins, find themselves further away from the batsman the faster the bowls, and because of the resulting geometry, are usually further away than the wicket keeper is. Pat Sheil, ‘guardian’ of the very Australian ‘Column 8’ for years has chosen the slips cordon as an apt metaphor for a one man character play he’s devised that grew out of a very successful five-minute Short and Sweet act cheekily dismantling the Simpson at Gallipoli donkey’s tale and resulting in many accolades. At the core of the now two act play, lies a couple of Australian truths: Australian’s will gladly dismantle any of the tall poppies we (or others) created and the talent for our own special brand of Tall Poppy Syndrome may be a dying art. That cordon of slips we’ve always held dear (unless we ever had the misfortune of becoming a tall poppy of course) might be a dying breed performing a dying art.
I cheerfully suggest that Australians are the best in the world at cutting the big boots down to size, from the Bondi inhabitants leaving the morning show bimbo alone with her seductive TV giveaways on Bondi Beach, through to the beer bolstered blues Bob Hawke would have with John Howard down at the local. We’re proud that a chubby girl in ug boots and a flanno can meet a handsome prince at The Slip Inn when she’s out with the chicks hoping to pick up, and we took a unofficial day off work when we sliced the Americas Cup out from under the New York Yacht clubs 132 year reign. This is the country that elected a beer drinking champion as our Prime Minister, and ruthlessly steal any cultural icon from New Zealand that they care to claim. It’s our very own style of Tall Poppy syndrome, stemming not so much from disdain for high achievers, but rather a side nudging reminder that no one, no matter who they are, worked alone for anything they’ve achieved.
It is history being told not by the victor but the rabble, that serves as the underlying emphasis for the character dubbed ‘Slips Cordon’ by Pat Sheil that gives the audience at Legend a sense of recognition that morphs into solidarity – not because (not ever because) we agree that he was right, but because it’s in our blood to get a thrill from watching our most sacred cows demystified for no other reason than our drink addled pleasure. Sir Don Bradman was a self-important twit who fell to pieces at the slightest hint of pressure – love it! Dame Nellie Melba’s finest performance was combined with her highest climax – excellent! The Sydney Opera House was bulldozed into the sea and started afresh when Utzon ran off crying – Bring it on! John Kerr was meant to sack the gardener, and when that failed sacked anyone else? That one could actually be true… and it would certainly be balm to a certain kind of dull ache in the predominately left-wing audience. With great wit, charming cheek and a fearless disrespect, Pat Sheil gives it all away – for the sake of a strange aspect of the Australian persona he clearly loves.
Slips Cordon is played to perfection by actual true-to-life (still remarkably handsome) legend John Derum, who is directed by Lex Marinos. The pair round out the wordy play with a busy set and a lot of movement, so that in Derum’s deft hands, one loses the sense that there is only one person on the stage throughout the performance. And yet, there is another subtlety that comes through Sheil’s words, when held and interpreted by Derum and Marinos, and that is a rather melancholy idea of loss, or at least a potential loss, of this once robust form of australian humour. Slips Cordon is old, and toward the end of the play there are signs of a dithering that points to a preparedness for the end of something, or rather to a time that has made its journey past. Can the baton be passed to the younger generations? Will they keep the spirit of that Aussie mateship alive by constantly wresting it out of the hands of politicians, or is it part of a time that might be over, a once new nation burying its layers to make fertile soil for a new kind of Australian, unknowingly born in an older and wiser society that has put away its adolescence. The bittersweet sting of fading memory imbues the rollicking and joyfully irreverent play Legend, and leaves the audience with some somber questions behind the enormous grin. A night of jubilant, celebratory theatre, as much for an old guard as it is for a new spirit passionate about what makes us uniquely Australian.