The Call is an adaptation by Bruce Myles of Martin Flanagan’s novel of the same name. With strong dance and movement motifs, it tells the story of Tom Wills, sporting legend, AFL founder and lost soul.
The play is written with virtually no punctuation in a free-flowing, lyrical form that suggests poetry and dance. There are strong Indigenous references throughout with Tom participating in Indigenous dances and taking on the dingo as his totem. Reading the play I assumed there would be a revelation that Tom’s ancestry included an Aboriginal parent, but his links with Indigenous Australia were more tentative than that.
Wills was born in 1835 to a family with convict heritage, trying to prove themselves in a society that held onto all the class segregation of the old Empire. Young Wills was an astonishing athlete, something that would have made his old man very proud if he’d lived today. But in those days, sport wasn’t considered a gentlemanly occupation and Horatio Wills wanted his son educated inEnglandand working as a lawyer.
One of the things The Call captures best is the damage caused by never belonging and always having to prove yourself. Tom Wills had grown up playing with Aboriginal children on a property. They taught him their language, sports and dances and he incorporated them in his distinctive playing style.
Wills was a natural at cricket and would probably be remembered like Bradman if he hadn’t also rocked the establishment with his over-arm bowling, body-line balls and captainship of an Aboriginal cricket team.
ELLIS: Does it not occur to you that theBritish Empiremight not wish to be led by a colonial backwater
TOM: They’ll just have to catch up […]
Leadership is a fact not a title handed out at birth
In theCrimeayour sort of leadership led to men charging live cannon on horseback because some senile oaf with an inherited title told them to do so
ELLIS: This is too much Wills is a revolutionary
Wills had a reputation for being dangerous, enhanced no doubt by his drinking. Deciding that the Victorian cricket team was too soft, Wills made up a new game of football to toughen them up, the game that eventually turned into Aussie Rules.
At the height of his success (and outrage over his behaviour) Wills’s father took him on an expedition to Queensland, to set up a new property and teach him how to be a ‘proper’ man. The expedition stumbled into a land war between the local Aborigines and new settlers and Horatio Wills and 18 of their team were massacred. (The reprisals for the Aborigines were brutal.)
His father’s murder and its reprisals tipped Wills over the edge. Banished from ‘civilised’ society, alcoholic and paranoid, he killed himself when he was 44.
The Call is a play about sport and race. It’s a reminder of our history and a portrait of a brilliant and lonely man, caught between two worlds, unable to appease either of them.
Publisher: Currency Press
Cast: Could be played by a large cast or doubled with 5M, 2F