“The light is green, the bunny is out… and they’re racing!”
I work evenings in an Inner-West TAB, and hear that string of phrases about one-hundred times a night. Greyhound racing is a dark sport—literally, in that it’s only undertaken at night—and figuratively, in that it’s free of the luxury-brand sponsors, best dressed competitions, and relatively unseedy trainers that grace the daytime thoroughbred racing.
With all of this in mind, The Dapto Chaser surprised me. It follows the ageing and cancerous Errol Sinclair, a former greyhound trainer of questionable sportsmanship, and his two similarly impoverished sons: Jimmy, a lure driver and Cess, hopeful trainer of A Boy (dog) Named Sue. When Errol passes away, A Boy Named Sue is the only hope of a decent sendoff.
The play deals with dark themes: death, terminal illness, gambling addiction, corruption, intergenerational poverty. Though I can’t talk about particular cases, I’ve seen people come in and spend a great deal of money on dogs, yelling and cursing when their sure-thing doesn’t come through. Gambling is often used as a cover for other crimes such embezzlement or drug dealing. Take that, add an ensemble cast from the Wentworth Park Greyhounds or Dapto Dogs at eight-PM on a Monday night, and you’ve got yourself a setting for a Sarah Kane epic on the futility of life.
Only in Australian theatre could we take dog racing and all of the darkness it provides and produce a family drama.
The production’s staging was a very safe naturalism throughout, and the script sometimes left actors with little room to act natural. Characters spent time having repetitive discussions in imaginary doorways, trying to put on their jackets and leave, but held up with one last piece of Performances were solid. Each actor was able to show off their experience, with Richard Sydenham a stand out as Cess Sinclair, deftly able to negotiate the play’s off-beat humour and more serious aspects.
The play’s all-male cast provided the perfect opportunity to explore masculinity, brotherhood, loss and emotion in a very male-dominated world. It succeeds, to an extent. My favourite part of the production is when Cess, after a wooden chair breaks from underneath him, takes it up and storms off stage, loudly-muttering “Oh, you’re dead mate: you’re fucken’ dead mate…” before beating it senseless. Of course, the personification of a piece of furniture is funny, but as a comment on loss, manhood, and misdirected aggression, it spoke to a point I wish the play had pushed further.
What The Dapto Chaser does particularly well is speak to the fact that these issues are often ignored. Cess takes more swigs of Mylanta than beer throughout the play, and admits that his dog is the only thing that makes him “crack a smile.” Errol wears his late wife’s ring around his neck for 32 years. Jimmy is constantly referred to the lesser brother and is tasked with keeping his father, and then his brother, from gambling their lives away. Writer Mary Rachel Brown and director Glynn Nicholas deploy a entirely homogenous cast very effectively to show what goes unsaid between men. This was done well, but I feel that it takes the (well-trod) easy way out. The characters, beside Jimmy, all resign themselves to having gambling, drinking, and smoking in their blood.
The production itself is entirely agreeable, and I would certainly recommend it. This is a good script on the cusp of being something great. Theatre in Sydney has a tendency to fall back on the same old tropes, the same old realist/naturalist dramas, the same old gritty versions of Home and Away (for which Brown has previously written).
Go see The Dapto Chaser, but don’t forget that there’s no such thing as a sure-thing.