The intimate stories of three young queer men are laid bare in playwright Jake Stewart’s newest offering, The Helendale Nude Footy Calendar, at Bluestone Church Arts Space for Midsumma festival.
The Helendale Nude Footy Calendar explores the parallel stories of three young men growing up gay in the fictional country towns of Helendale, Karandah Heads and Galshank.
In Helendale, Angus (Chris Edwards) is an aspiring young creative who, on hearing news of the local footy club’s imminent closure in light of dwindling financial support, hatches a cheeky plan to raise the requisite funds. In Karandah Heads, Reef (James Hardy) is the relentlessly brusque receptionist at his family’s caravan park. When he befriends juvenile transient Curtis, revelations arise about his problematic methods for coping with loneliness. In Galshank, Conor (Patrick Cook) navigates the repressed homoeroticism within his all-male school as well as his tortured relationship with fellow classmate Heath (Dean Robinson).
The stories duck and weave around one another as all three endure the thrills and pains of lust, love and heartbreak within the stifling microcosms of regional Australia.
Stewart’s love of language is evident throughout his writing, which is peppered with flamboyant turns of phrase and imagery that is often whimsical and poetic. The choice to balance naturalistic content with such delightfully florid language lends the production a fun, jaunty bent that is quickly becoming iconic of Stewart’s work.
The script’s more indulgent turns are kept in check by Stewart’s own direction and the performances of a strong ensemble cast, who handle the text with an honesty and emotional truth that keeps it tethered in reality. Of particular note are Cook as the quietly troubled teenage Conor, Hardy’s darkly tragic Reef, and Edwards who is both hilarious and heartbreaking as Angus. Other ‘Most Valuable Player’ mentions must go to Jordan Broadway whose versatility and strength as a performer is captivating as he traverses all three narratives, and Linus Tolliday who injects the awkward Curtis with enough gangly comedy to diffuse the darkest plot of the three.
The show’s design, by Jessica McLaughlin Cafferty and Lindsay Templeton, is thorough and thoughtful. The simple components of the set (little more than a strip of astro-turf, a screened shower block and a desk) are all utilised with a precision that is powerfully transformative, especially considering the limitations of the modest performance space. And, of course, there are oranges at ‘half time’.
The confusion and turbulence experienced by many young, queer Australians coming of age in environments dominated by repressive hyper-masculinity and heteronormativity is very real and often terrifying. The Helendale Nude Footy Calendar explores these narratives with a lot of humour, a lot of heart, and a lot of full-frontal peen.