More an oral history than a play, “Run Rabbit Run” recounts how the struggling South Sydney football club defended its inclusion in Australia’s National Rugby League despite a bid by Rupert Murdoch’s News Ltd. and league officials to ostracize it.
In the late 1990s, News Corp. was behind a push to promote the popular sport, taking it beyond its traditional base in the north Australian states. To make room for new clubs, existing clubs were forced to amalgamate or fold. Souths, or the Rabbitohs as they are known (after the original team members, who were mostly rabbit sellers), staunchly refused to do either.
The ensuing David vs. Goliath struggle at its peak brought 80,000 protesters onto Sydney’s streets and saw damaging boycotts by traditional consumers of Murdoch’s Daily Telegraph newspaper and cabler Foxtel. Russell Crowe, Tom Cruise and local celebs Andrew Denton and Ray Martin rallied to the Rabbitohs’ cause. After a court battle and numerous appeals, the Rabbitohs won readmission to the league in 2002.
Scribe Valentine constructed “Run Rabbit Run” from extensive interviews with some of the protagonists, using a didactic style reminiscent of Moises Kaufman’s “The Laramie Project.” She eschewed the opportunity to examine whether the club deserved inclusion in the league or to explore the effects of the corporatization of sport, choosing a rather softer agenda: “to look at aspects of our Australian nature that this story reveals.” The emotional stuff is worthwhile, but two hours of storytelling allowed plenty of space to hammer out some theories as well.
The few dramatized moments — scenes between the rough but passionate mother and daughter and the young family of Rabbitoh supporters — were the best.
Still, kudos to Company B for tackling contempo history, especially as Belvoir Street Theater is nestled near the Rabbitohs’ tough public housing heartland. The company is reaping the rewards in the form of new audiences, some even decked out in Rabbitohs jerseys.
Thomson’s set was a highlight. The theater’s walls were bedecked with Rabbitohs memorabilia — framed jerseys, flags, portraits and action photos.