Review: Sorting Out Rachel (Ensemble Theatre)

Venue: Ensemble Theatre (Kirribilli NSW), Jan 19 – Mar 17, 2018
Playwright: David Williamson
Director: Nadia Tass
Cast: Chenoa Deemal, Glenn Hazeldine, John Howard, Jenna Owen, Natalie Saleeba
Image by Heidrun Lohr

Theatre review
Bruce is an old man with a lot of money, sixty million dollars to be exact, and a life with no troubles except in deciding what to do with it all when he dies. David Williamsons’ Sorting Out Rachel is clearly not a story for the “ordinary Australian”, although some of its scenes where family members connive and fight over inheritance would resonate with many. It is also a “father knows best” story where the patriarch interferes with his daughter Julie’s life, and manages to solve all her problems over a few days quite miraculously, as though a knight in shining armour had descended upon her household, out of the blue.

The play never feels very realistic, with Julie’s unexplained ineptitude particularly conspicuous, but the conflicts that arise from Williamson’s depictions of a feuding family, are nonetheless entertaining. The eponymous Rachel is played by the very compelling Jenna Owen, who impresses with an energetic, if slightly too histrionic, portrayal of a recalcitrant teenager. John Howard is suitably august as her grandfather Bruce, and Natalie Saleeba becomes increasingly believable, as Julie gradually gains strength through the later half.

Glenn Hazeldine is a mischievously charming presence, and probably the most convincing of the group, even if his ploys as Julie’s husband Craig, are far too transparent to hold water. Chenoa Deemal is memorable as Bruce’s illegitimate daughter Tess, the Indigenous personality brought into the story, not only as inspiration for Bruce to think about his wealth as a vehicle for benevolence, but also for us to understand the cultural dimensions of the middle-class crises we encounter.

Ideas about inheritance in Sorting Out Rachel seem in many ways, to be borne out of the family’s European heritage and the individualism that whiteness extols. Wealth, and property, are essentially personal, almost never communal, to the extent that even family members are routinely refused access. Bruce’s prosperity comes from real estate, but in Australia, issues of land ownership remain gravely contentious.