|From page to stage – below, read about the playwrights’ fascinating journey creating POCKET ROCKET …
Excerpt from ‘Hockey is Life’ by Bob Vrbanac (20 April 2016)
There are a lot of people who think hockey is life in Canada, but there are also moments when the game reveals human nature in a comedic way.
That’s what playwrights Lea Daniel and Gary Kirkham decided over dinner one night when they sketched out a concept of a group of friends who get together over a road hockey game in 1967, and then revisit them every 14 years after, until 1995.
“Lea started talking to me about this concept about playing street hockey and 10 minutes in we started getting excited about it,” said Kirkham. “The next thing you know I wasn’t just listening, I was helping her write it.
“It was this wonderful moment of ‘this would be such a wonderful play,’ and the idea of these kids playing the game and the moments in between when everything really happens.”
Kirkham, the former playwright-in-residence at the Blyth Festival in 2008 and author of Falling: A Wake, which has been produced all over the world and translated into several languages, said it has echoes of the Seven Up documentary series that revisits the lives of a group of British school children every seven years to see how they’ve turned out.
In the case of Pocket Rocket, the friends come back at 14 year intervals, and although a lot has happened in their lives, the comedy comes from how they can return to those squabbling kids they were when they first came together over a game of road hockey.
“The game is almost like an excuse for them to get together,” said Kirkham. “There is a longevity to the game, and they just keep coming back to it. Everything changes and nothing changes.”
The road hockey game also has a way of revealing someone’s character.
“You get these great group dynamics and the power structure that naturally happens,” said Kirkham. “We would play off each other, and I would say that’s such a true moment.
“It explains how we got from A to B.”
Kirkham said he was never a street hockey star himself as an immigrant to Canada from England in 1967, but it was a great introduction to the culture.
“I was always the last guy to get chosen,” he said with a laugh. “But you still got together and played and the team usually got an extra player.”
The play also makes fun of the reverential way road hockey players assume the identities of their favourite players. In this case, no one wants to assume the mantle of one of the game’s greatest players, Maurice “Rocket” Richard, but have no problems playing Henri “The Pocket Rocket” Richard, who went on to win the most Stanley Cups as a player.
“The one guy chooses the Pocket Rocket because he doesn’t want the pressure of being the best player,” said Kirkham. “Then he keeps coming back to it and it becomes part of the core of the play.”
Of course, the play features the most iconic line heard in a road hockey game — Car!
“We had to have it,” said Kirkham. “If we didn’t have that line, then forget it.