Venue: SBW Stables Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Jan 17 – Mar 7, 2020
Playwright: David Williamson
Director: Lee Lewis
Cast: Belinda Giblin, Danielle King, Andrew McFarlane, Jamie Oxenbould, Ella Prince, Bishanyia Vincent, Sabryna Walters
Images by Brett Boardman
It is indeed appropriate that white people in Australia should have serious discussions among themselves about immigration, and other matters that require them to challenge their own privileged positions. They are the ones in power, and so much depends on their ability to make concessions in order that all our lives can become more equitable. In David Williamson’s Family Values, we watch rich white people fighting about the right thing to do, ostensibly about Australia’s refugee intake and the worldwide asylum seeker problem, but in fact, the argument that happens in their dining room is much simpler.
The Collins make a lot of noise in Family Values, each of them fired individually by existential angst, but what should have been philosophical and moral debates are embarrassingly reduced to a basic issue of whether seriously ill people should be allowed to stay in Australia, while their refugee status is being considered. The play distracts us with a lot of hullabaloo, misleading us into thinking that privileged North Shore types are actually having broader conversations about immigration and the future of this country, when they are only actually fighting over the destiny of one very sick woman. Needless to say, how we regard people who require serious medical attention, should never be a matter of contention at all, no matter where they come from.
Director Lee Lewis makes sure everyone on stage gets really riled up, and the drama is often gripping over the 90 or so minutes; people are fighting tooth and nail, and there is an inherent pleasure in watching rich people tear each other apart from the sidelines. Dynamics between personalities may be manufactured but there is no denying the intensity of conflict that takes place. The more unrealistic the characters, the more extravagant the performances, which is understandable from the perspective of actors who wish to create something out of nothing.
Jamie Oxenbould and Ella Prince make very bold choices that are frequently jarring, but the alternative of attempting naturalism would clearly make for extremely flaccid interpretations. The one person of colour waiting to be rescued is played by Sabryna Walters, who as Saba, uses her monologue in the second half to deliver a moment of genuine theatrical magic. Her performance of pleading for mercy is powerful and wonderfully emotional, a real treat that reminds us, if only for a few minutes, what we must insist of our artists.
It does not surprise anyone, spoiler alert, that the father of the household Roger eventually steps up and does the right thing, and of course gets celebrated for it, as though he is the true hero in this asinine effort. Powerful people seem to only do good things when they are rewarded disproportionately. Even when innocent lives are at stake, there has to be a profit motive to spur action, and worse, they see no shame in that. Roger Collins wants to be honoured and revered for following the rules set up by those who were just like him, that had come before him. We need to identify the damage that they cause, and establish new ways to get rid of them.