Lay Down Sally (StageArtXposed) – theatre review

Sally Robbins and Steven Bradbury featured in two of the most notorious moments in Australian Olympic history.

Robbins is known as “Lay Down Sally” because she gave up and lay back in her boat 250 metres from the finishing line during the women’s eights’ final at the Athens Summer Games in 2004. She was reviled for her actions and seen as the ultimate villain.

Bradbury came from behind and claimed gold in the 1,000 metre speed-skating final at the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City. But his win came after his opponents were involved in a last corner pile-up  He became a most unlikely hero.

Now, for the first time, their fractured – not-so-true – fairy tale is played out in front of a live audience. Lay Down Sally has been designed with laughs in mind. It’s extremely far-fetched and irreverent, even shocking at times. Robbins (Nicola Guzzardi) is the subject of much derision in this production.

Having returned home in disgrace, Robbins decides to take up cycling; with Bradbury (Taylen Furness) as her coach. Her target is the 2008 Beijing Olympics. While Bradbury clearly has more than training on his mind, his romantic intentions are usurped by an Australian lothario – none other than Nick Giannopoulos (Andrew White) from Wogs Out of Work. After Bradbury takes Robbins for a meal, Giannopoulos begins to woo her (much to Bradbury’s chagrin). But there you have it – once a ladies’ man, always a ladies’ man. Giannopoulos even manages to get Robbins’ name mixed up. The likes of Lleyton Hewitt, Shane Warne and Anna Meares make cameo appearances. 

Actor, co-writer, co-lyricist and director Spencer Hadlow has plenty of fun with the outrageous material. Hadlow, musical director Furness, and fellow scribe White, came up with the idea in 2015 as part of the University of Melbourne’s MUDFest Arts Festival. They wanted to craft a show that felt nostalgic and distinctly Australian … and that they have. They claim that once they paired Robbins and Bradbury everything just clicked, resulting in the production we get to see.

Guzzardi – who has a fine singing voice – revels in playing with the material, as the heat is turned up. White has “sleaze bag” down pat, as his Giannopoulos is the prime object of his own desires. Spare a thought for the emasculated Bradbury, a character Furness manages to milk. Spencer Hadlow and Sarah Calsina round out the quintet of performers, forming the ensemble, along with the interviewing duo of Larry Emdur and Kylie Gillies.

The predominantly young audience with whom I saw Lay Down Sally laughed vigorously and frequently. Some of the voices are stronger than others. But the cast breathe life into the nine numbers that form the backbone of the musical. Some – though not all – sight gags and one-liners hit the mark.

There’s nothing too deep going on here. This is pure popcorn entertainment; lightweight fare with a university-style feel to it. One thing is for sure, the contemporary nature of the show certainly wins over hearts and minds. It is next playing at Chapel off Chapel on 24 October 2017 at 7.30 pm.

Alex First

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