Review: End Of (Griffin Theatre Company)

Venue: SBW Stables Theatre (Darlinghurst NSW), Oct 13 – Nov 5, 2022
Playwright: Ash Flanders
Director: Stephen Nicolazzo
Cast: Ash Flanders
Images by Brett Boardman

Theatre review
Ash Flanders is so incredibly theatrical, of course he has written a one-man play about his mother dying, even though Heather is somewhere in Melbourne, still quite alive. End Of begins with anecdotes about Flanders’ stint working as a transcriber for the police, then veers off talking about his adventures in procuring horse entrails to use as props for a show, and then his first moments on psychedelics that lead him to becoming sisters with a papier-mâché rooster. The pieces are tangential to say the least, but it is hard to care too much about coherence, when the point of the work is really only about Flanders’ immense comedic talent as a live performer.

Magnetic and utterly persuasive, Flanders proves himself an actor of audacious talent and skill, in this piece named after his sardonic mother’s favourite punchline, End Of. It attempts to take us somewhere profound in the final minutes, but it is Flanders’ relentless obsession with the frivolous and the flamboyant, that leaves an impression. Director Stephen Nicolazzo knows this, and has made sure to build a production around that invaluable sense of humour, for an experience that provides incessant laughter, and endless amusement. Everything is fair game, from the disappointing Hollywood remake of Total Recall, to deaths in Flanders’ family. Camp becomes a sort of zen outlook, occupying the centre of Flanders’ world; if everything is capable of being diminished, nothing really hurts.

Stage and costume design by Nathan Burmeister is simple, but knowing, able to give a wink-and-nudge, that indicates appropriate time and place as well as attitude, for this very 21st century representation of ironic gay sensibility. Rachel Burke’s lights are a pleasant surprise, as they turn increasingly opulent, after establishing something distressingly humble, when we first meet Flanders at a bureaucratic facility. Sound by Tom Backhaus offers valuable atmospheric embellishment to the reminiscences being shared, even if Flanders’ extraordinary dexterity with his commanding voice, feels to be more than sufficient.

End Of is a reminder that sometimes, the story is not the thing. The sheer pleasure of being in the presence of a performer at the top of their game, doing what they do best, is one of the gifts of theatre that can never be replaced. This bliss cannot be digitised.

www.griffintheatre.com.au

Review: Mother May We (Griffin Theatre Company)

Venue: SBW Stables Theatre (Darlinghurst NSW), Sep 27 – Oct 8, 2022
Playwright: Mel Ree
Cast: Mel Ree
Images by DefinitelyDefne Photography

Theatre review
Mel Ree performs her own writing in Mother May We, a meditation on identity, heritage, aspiration and liberation. A vulnerable collection of thoughts, scant with autobiographical details, placing emphasis instead on the translation of deep personal feelings, into words. It is the essence of Ree’s being that emerges, from these poetic scenes, retaining for the subject a certain mystique, but leaving us a strong impression about the riveting personality we encounter.

With magnetism seeping from every pore, Ree makes an hour in her presence feel a fleeting moment. She charms and delights, with masterful control over her physicality, along with the silkiest of voices, Ree effortlessly but powerfully keeps us under her spell for the entire duration. Her presentation oscillates between humour, poignancy and eccentricity, serving up testimony from the perspective of a queer woman-of-colour on these colonised lands.

Whether flippant or sombre, the tone of Mother May We constantly morphs, but what it reveals is always and only the truth. In allowing that truth to occupy space so absolutely, Ree stands for something radical. There is a transformation that she synthesises, that we are made to be a part of, when we open ourselves to the autonomy of her storytelling. The audience is forever changed, as a result of encountering a soul, so insistent and so defiant, in the assertion of something that can only be described as the artist’s sense of authenticity.

The poetry is enhanced by an intricate sound design by Steven Khoury, who twists and turns our sensibilities, so that we connect with the various dimensions of quirkiness, that Ree brings forth so gregariously. Lights by Frankie Clarke and video by Nema Adel, mesmerise and titillate, much like the star of the show, full of surprises, and always with an underlying but distinct air of glamour.

It is perhaps the job of feminism, to wrestle with uncertainty and that which is undecided, because convenient answers have proven to only serve hegemonies that we know to rile against. In Mother May We things seem to be in flux, seeking for destinations that we discover ultimately to be further transitory points. It is our idiosyncrasies, that we should learn to honour. To cultivate a capacity for individuality in our humanity, and to resist that which demands uniformity and conformity. Feminism holds us at every inevitable occasion of chaos, when we are able to get to the truth, and it teaches us to be apprehensive, when things fall too neatly into tidy little boxes.

www.griffintheatre.com.au

Review: Whitefella Yella Tree (Griffin Theatre Company)

Venue: SBW Stables Theatre (Darlinghurst NSW), Aug 19 – Sep 23, 2022
Playwright: Dylan Van Den Berg
Director: Declan Greene, Amy Sole
Cast: Callan Purcell, Guy Simon
Images by Brett Boardman

Theatre review
It was the dawn of colonisation, somewhere on this land now known as Australia. Teenagers Neddy and Ty, mountain mob and river mob respectively, would meet at every moon to exchange information, on what the white man is up to, as indications point to their presence beginning to seem a threatening one. Dylan Van Den Berg’s sensational new play, Whitefella Yella Tree tells a multi-faceted story of great importance, with scintillating humour, extraordinary tenderness, and shattering poignancy. Everything one could possibly ask of a playwright, Van Den Berg delivers, through the greatest of acuity and sophistication.

As a work of romance, Whitefella Yella Tree is likely one of the most moving pieces to encounter. Its narrative ventures into the sweetest terrains of innocent young love, only to deal a devastating blow, when it all goes wrong, for two characters we had fallen hopelessly for, from the very first minute. Furthermore, politically, and socially, what the play is able to articulate, are perhaps some of the most pertinent and urgent messages of our time, presented with unparalleled clarity, yet bears the elegance necessary to make the tough pill easy to swallow.

Van Den Berg demonstrates the real power of theatre, as a communal space of imagination and creativity, capable of creating meaning, understanding and consensus. Away from the grips of capitalism, in auditoriums still deemed to be sacred, we congregate to share vulnerabilities and seek truths, and in the case of Whitefella Yella Tree it all happens in only 90 magical minutes.

Declan Greene and Amy Sole are co-directors, marvellous at turning word to flesh, so that we can be thoroughly immersed with all our senses, into the astonishing world of Neddy and Ty, and everything their story represents. Greene and Sole bring incredible detail to the presentation, with resonances to be discovered everywhere our attention resides. The show says so much yet, quite incredibly, Greene and Sole ensure that we are able to absorb it all, helping us form comprehension about each and every issue being raised. Additionally, the show is full of irresistible charm, effortless at eliciting laughter and tears, for an experience as intense with the emotions it provokes, as it does the ideas it inspires.

Designed by Mason Browne, the set evokes our mountainscapes with little fuss, and makes a statement about territories being stolen, through a visual emphasis on the very portion of earth, on which the titular tree stands. Browne’s costumes are a delightful expression of Indigenous youth identities, choosing contemporary garb over speculations on what might have been, ironically brings authenticity to the personalities we meet. Lights by Kelsey Lee and Katie Sfetkidis, along with sound and music by Steve Toulmin, manufacture high drama for key revelatory moments, utilising the theatrical form to full effect, addressing both our instincts and intellect, in a show that requires us to think and feel, at every juncture.

Brilliantly performed by Callan Purcell as Ty, and Guy Simon as Neddy, the pair brings vigorous life to the stage, riotously mischievous at every opportunity. Bringing new meaning to the word “play” in a theatrical context, the two are infectious with their unbridled joy, as they discover the first pangs of passion and lust, in a decolonised tale about boys in love. As the story darkens, the gravity they introduce becomes unequivocally sombre and palpable, with a soulfulness that defies any attempt to disconnect, from all that they wish to impart.

The process of decolonisation may involve a conceptual returning to the times before, but it mostly involves reinvention and imagination. It requires that we interrogate values that are harmful to all who are Indigenous to this land, and seek ways to have them amended, remembering in the process that to address the injustice on Indigenous peoples, will always result in the aggregate progress of all on this land. We simply must no longer accept, that the displacement and disadvantaging of any minority, is a necessary evil for us to sustain a sense of nationhood. A new identity is being forged, and the colonial ways need to be eradicated.

www.griffintheatre.com.au

Review: Golden Blood (Griffin Theatre Company)

Venue: SBW Stables Theatre (Darlinghurst NSW), Jun 24 – Jul 30, 2022
Playwright: Merlynn Tong
Director: Tessa Leong
Cast: Merlynn Tong, Charles Wu
Images by Brett Boardman

Theatre review
Girl, 14 and Boy, 21 find themselves orphaned upon their mother’s suicide. Having only each other to depend on, the two quickly grow closer, in a social vacuum that sees the wayward older sibling exercise increasingly undue influence on the innocent teen. Merlynn Tong’s Golden Blood takes place in late 90s Singapore, where unlawful gang activities, of which Boy was a committed member, were still making the news. In fear of bringing embarrassment to their family legacy, the young pair hatch creative but corruptive plans to make their fortune, on a land that places veneration on all things gold.

Tong’s writing is exciting and exceptionally colourful. Much of the dialogue in Golden Blood is in Singlish, but the “creole” is carefully crafted, in order that standard English speakers are not left behind. The humour in Tong’s work is thoroughly scintillating, with a broad appeal that transcends cultures. Furthermore the incorporation of Australia as a symbol for Girl’s escapism and ambitions, helps position the play at a point that gives psychological access to viewers here. As the stakes escalate in its narrative, Golden Blood turns melodramatic in a way that some might find alienating, but its concluding moments are unquestionably moving.

Directed by Tessa Leong, the show although never sanctimonious, is an intense and urgent exploration of modern youth. Replete with energy and an unmistakeable air of anxiety, we are compelled from the very start to invest in this unusual coming-of-age tale, of good intentions gone bad. There are slight incongruities with the inclusion of smartphones and certain clothing items, that can cause momentary confusion regarding the era being discussed, but they are ultimately a negligible oversight.

Set and costumes by Michael Hankin are efficiently rendered, and appropriately simple. In tandem with Fausto Brusamolino’s exuberant lights, visual aspects of the production are dynamic, and effective at keeping the audience in a state of consistent tension and tautness. Sound and music by Rainbow Chan are similarly spirited, with cross-cultural influences that convey a valuable complexity, in relation to time and place for this story.

Tong herself takes on the role of Girl, profoundly moving as the misguided ingénue, but also disarmingly hilarious with her exquisite comic timing. Boy is played by Charles Wu, fantastic with the animated physicality and incredible voice he brings to the part. Their chemistry as a team is unbelievably flawless. Both actors bring a marvellous sense of depth to the characters they inhabit, allowing Golden Blood to venture into outlandish and wondrous spaces, without compromising even a fragment on authenticity.

When the definition of success is narrowed down to mean little more than material wealth, the result is an existence that can only ever be empty or exasperating. Girl and Boy were never taught right ways to be, not by their families, and not by the wider communities of which they belong. All they perceive are superficial markers of happiness, designed mostly to obfuscate and not reveal the truth. In Golden Blood we see, that the truth is persistent, even when we try hard to avoid it, and to honour it, is perhaps the only meaningful way to be.

www.griffintheatre.com.au

Review: Ghosting The Party (Griffin Theatre Company)

Venue: SBW Stables Theatre (Darlinghurst NSW), May 20 – Jun 18, 2022
Playwright: Melissa Bubnic
Director: Andrea James
Cast: Belinda Giblin, Amy Hack, Jillian O’Dowd
Images by Clare Hawley

Theatre review
Grace is 87, and everything in life has become a pain. Seeing that there is no joy left in anything, she decides to take her death into her own hands. This however is not a popular decision, with Grace’s daughter and granddaughter, who are not quite as ready to lose a loved one. Melissa Bubnic’s Ghosting the Party may have chosen to talk about the oldest topics, of family and of death, but in fact does so by offering an ultramodern take on life, and on the agency of our women and our aged. Bubnic’s expressions are both emotional and pragmatic, coming from a place of immense honesty, whilst demonstrating deeply impressive analytic capacities. Ghosting the Party is a highly intelligent, and provocative, piece of writing, but also supremely funny, able to thoroughly entertain, as it makes clever arguments about some of life’s most serious matters.

Bubnic’s wonderful words and ideas, are brought to the stage by director Andrea James, who is herself brilliantly humorous. James’ show is simultaneously poignant and comedic, able to move us to tears, not only through its sentimentality, but also by way of some very wicked laughter. With James at the reins, Ghosting the Party is intellectually engaging, and endlessly amusing; certainly one of the best shows you can hope to see at any theatre, at any time.

Designer Isabel Hudson does a splendid job of the set and costumes, making witty references to feminine stereotypes, drawing attention perhaps, to the gendered way we talk about so many things, even at the point of death. Lights by Verity Hampson are memorable especially in moments of melancholy, able to swiftly alter our responses to accommodate the complex amalgamation of feelings that the play evokes. That constant shifting of emotional gears, is further assisted by the music and sound design of Phil Downing, which help us connect to both the realist dimensions and the play’s more abstract ones. The show’s design aspects conspire perfectly, to deliver something that is thoughtful, silly, happy and sad, all at once.

Occupying our attention most intensely however, is the divine Belinda Giblin, who is simply resplendent in the role of Grace. Her work seems infinitely intricate and detailed, allowing us to comprehend the story at great depth and unbelievable nuance. Giblin is as hilarious as she is touching, with a conviction and confidence that is rarely paralleled. Equally passionate is Jillian O’Dowd, who plays daughter Dorothy with an exceptional sense of ironic glee. Her depictions of vulnerability and frustration, form a wonderfully convincing, and endearing, portrait of the middle-aged Australian everywoman as she exists today. Amy Hack is granddaughter Suzie, authentic and strong, in the way she conveys the internal conflicts that inevitably arise, when trying to cut the apron strings and carve her own way.

The first thing we hear in Ghosting the Party, are these stirring words, “No-one ever came back but all reports indicate it’s lovely.” Nobody knows for sure, what happens on the other side, but we all hold cultural and individuated beliefs that pertain to the afterlife. What is irrefutable however, is the sorrow that comes with the sudden absence of a loved one. Love does not make its presence more felt, than when a person goes away. Eternally wondrous, however, is that love never disappears with death. It is that prolonged lingering, that makes us think that we do not simply end this way. Whatever it may be, the truth is that all we can do, is try to love in a way that leaves no room for regret, even if all is only silence thereafter.

www.griffintheatre.com.au

Review: Orange Thrower (Griffin Theatre Company / National Theatre of Parramatta)

Venue: SBW Stables Theatre (Darlinghurst NSW), Feb 18 – Mar 26, 2022
Playwright: Kirsty Marillier
Director: Zindzi Okenyo
Cast: Callan Colley, Angela Nica Sullen, Mariama Whitton, Gabriela van Wyk
Images by Brett Boardman

Theatre review
Zadie’s home in an Australian suburb named Paradise, is being pelted with oranges. The cowardly vandals feel no need to explain their actions, because the house belongs to a Black family, and therefore presumably enough of a reason to suffer abuse. Meanwhile, Zadie pays little attention to the repeated humiliation; she has too much on her plate and also, this nonsense happens to minorities all the time. Kirsty Marillier’s Orange Thrower is a whimsical and mysterious work, involving young romance, supernatural phenomena and casual racism.

This unusual blend of genres offered by Orange Thrower is its greatest pleasure, as well as a great challenge that it simultaneously presents. Directed by Zindzi Okenyo, the show is fascinatingly quirky, but its very uniqueness can sit somewhat uncomfortably against more conventional sensibilities. There is something original in Marillier and Okenyo’s mode of storytelling that takes a little getting used to, with an innovative spirit that ultimately proves gratifying.

Production design by Jeremy Allen is vibrant, with a hint of playfulness that provides a sense of visual energy, whilst straddling between spaces real and surreal. Verity Hampson’s lights are bold in its range, able to take us through the wild transformations of atmosphere, that the play so bravely insists upon. Sound and music by Benjamin Pierpoint bears a sense of freedom that traverses a multitude of styles, to coax us into indulging in the play’s complex spatial renderings.

Actor Gabriela van Wyk brings intensity to the lead role, and although detailed in her depictions, the level of authenticity she portrays for Zadie can seem slightly inconsistent. Angela Nica Sullen is striking as cousin Stekkie, with an extraordinary stage presence that can convince us of anything. Younger sister Vimsy is played by a very likeable Mariama Whitton, with excellent zeal and focus. Similarly charming is the compelling and blithely agile Callan Colley who takes on double duty as eye candy love interest Leroy, and as neighbourhood serial pest Sharron, the white lady with a penchant for calling the cops on people of colour.

In spite of the injustices being hurled at her, Zadie goes about her business with passionate glee. She cleans up the mess left behind by her abusers, then goes to work, look after her family, and kisses her boyfriend. It is a kind of joyful resistance that she embodies. Artists of colour on this land too, need to adopt that modus operandi. We must fight, but we must also thrive, and be careful not to always conflate the two. Warriors need love too.

www.griffintheatre.com.au | www.riversideparramatta.com.au/NTofP

Review: Wherever She Wanders (Griffin Theatre Company)

Venue: SBW Stables Theatre (Darlinghurst NSW), Nov 5 – Dec 11, 2021
Playwright: Kendall Feaver
Director: Tessa Leong
Cast: Tony Cogin, Emily Havea, Mark Paguio, Jane Phegan, Fiona Press, Julia Robertson
Images by Brett Boardman

Theatre review
When Paige Hutson is raped in her own room, barely a week into life as a fresher at one of Australia’s oldest residential colleges, it becomes apparent that sexual assault on campus is exceedingly commonplace, and that entrenched mechanisms purporting to deal with these egregious trespasses serve only to protect the system, and not the victims. Kendall Feaver’s “Wherever She Wanders” is a strangely polite look at how a young feminist Nikki Faletau navigates her activism, within the conservative walls of a structure that is perhaps the most patriarchal of all our institutions.

The play’s ideas are modern, but not radical by any stretch of the imagination. It may even seem to occasionally be sitting on the fence, in its attempts to prevent characters from turning caricature. While “Wherever She Wanders” may not convey the incendiary passion often associated with political movements of our time, it certainly paints a cogent picture of the dynamics at play. Feaver takes a lot of care to map out many issues unearthed by that one horrific incident, but it is debatable if the granularity at which it examines them is necessary, at a time when matters of this nature are already stringently scrutinised in so much of  our discourse.

Staging of the piece is humorous and jaunty. Directed by Tessa Leong, the show never fails to feel spirited, with an excellent attention to energy levels, aided by the commendable work contributed by designers, most notably Govin Ruben on lights, and James Brown on sound and music. “Wherever She Wanders” is engaging at every juncture, if slightly deficient in terms of the intellectual rigour, that a narrative of this nature should be able to provide.

Presented by an amiable cast, with the vivacious Emily Havea as lead, bringing a valuable intensity to the earnest advocate Nikki. It is her vitality that gives the production, and the topics of discussion, a sense of authenticity and gravity. Her adversary Jo Mulligan is College Master, and feminist from a bygone era. Played by Fiona Press, who demonstrates great empathy for the role, inviting us to think about the way gatekeepers operate in our daily lives. Actor Julia Robertson does marvellously to deliver for Paige, an abundance of complexity and nuance, so that we may locate both agency and integrity for a young woman in danger of being defined solely by an instance of violation.

Whether one believes that the systems have become broken through the ravages of time, or that the systems were always designed to fail so many of us, one should already have come to the conclusion that it seems only drastic measures, can address all the foundational and fundamental problems that plague our traditional institutions. We observe Nikki’s persistence as she goes about trying to change things, but there is no evidence that the complaints and conversations she participates in, ever result in significant progress. Where there is power imbalance, the subjugated always runs the risk of being patronised. As long as the powerful remain in charge, there is never any incentive for them to do anything more than to pretend to listen. Change does occasionally occur however, and persistence seems the only tool that the disadvantaged an hang on to, aside from the ever-present fantasy of  torching the whole place down.

www.griffintheatre.com.au

Review: Is There Something Wrong With That Lady? (Griffin Theatre Company)

Venue: SBW Stables Theatre (Darlinghurst NSW), Apr 13 – 24, 2021
Playwright: Debra Oswald
Director: Lee Lewis
Cast: Debra Oswald
Images by Brett Boardman

Theatre review
Debra Oswald is a writer who has experienced great successes, but the periods of disappointment in between, are long drawn out and much too frequent. Like most artists, Oswald just keeps persisting, which is probably why she names her autobiographical one-person play, Is there Something Wrong with that Lady? The answer of course is that, it is entirely normal that artists in this country go through extended stints of neglect and even humiliation. In fact it may seem that artists do not require encouragement to be, for we continue to thrive even as conditions worsen in this climate of inescapable economic rationalism. One might be tempted to go so far as to say, that to be an artist in Australia, you will have to be born this way, and a beneficiary of some twisted curse perhaps.

Oswald is unstoppable. She keeps churning out books, plays and teleplays, like her life depends on them, or more to the point, like she has something to say. In her 80-minute solo effort, Oswald is charming, brimming with humour, always affable and delightful. A true blue Australian, she never takes herself too seriously, but it becomes clear that what she stands for, is something worth fighting for. Embracing creatives like Oswald, is crucial in dismantling the old boys club that runs so much of this country. Elevating women of a certain age, will redefine the values we hold as a nation. At the very least, as exemplified by Oswald’s play, we will learn that a person’s worth is not to be measured only by money, but by their imagination, their resilience, and most of all, their capacity to help communities connect.

Lee Lewis’ direction of the work is fairly minimal, demonstrating a sense of confidence that allows the staging to place emphasis completely on the physical presence of Oswald herself. There are minor enhancements in terms of music by Jessica Dunn and lights by Ben Brockman, but it is the inordinate clarity with which we receive the writer’s words that is the most enchanting. Although not the most natural of performers, Oswald is a vibrant personality who holds our attention effortlessly. Her piece may benefit from a slight edit, if only to accommodate our twenty-first century attention span.

Artists work to bring cohesion to society, whether intentional or not. Oswald is a storyteller of the purest kind. Her impulse is to share with the world, the characters and narratives that come through her, as though a sacred duty, so that we can be captivated as groups, to find consensus, instead of thinking incessantly about the divisions in-between. If we understand the importance of finding ways to conceive of the world beyond parameters of money and power, we will understand that those in public office and in private corporations, are not likely to be our answer. Art will set us free, terrifying as it may be.

www.griffintheatre.com.au

Review: Superheroes (Griffin Theatre Company)

Venue: Seymour Centre (Chippendale NSW), Sep 25 – Oct 31, 2020
Playwright: Mark Rogers
Director: Shari Sebbens
Cast: Gemma Bird Matheson, Claire Lovering, Aleks Mikic
Images by Prudence Upton

Theatre review
Superheroes by Mark Rogers tells the stories of two women at opposite ends of the world; Jana is near Sarajevo, and Emily is near Sydney. Their lives are different as can be, but on this one stage, we cannot help but draw parallels, such is the nature of being human. We create meaning from things we observe, and make distinct each personality whom we encounter, focussing quite naturally on how they are separate, but in this strange juxtaposition of experiences within Rogers’ text, we are additionally compelled to find ways to see ourselves as a unified species. We examine microcosms in war-torn Bosnia-Herzegovina and a more privileged Australia, finding ways to understand the people that we are, wondering if vastly different environments mean that we are necessarily disparate, or essentially one and the same.

Rogers’ scintillating writing is brought to life by Shari Sebbens’ dynamic and vigorous direction. The show brims with passion, offering emotional intensity from start to end. Claire Lovering is exquisite as Jana, delivering a deeply considered and precise portrayal, of a woman unable to emerge from the trauma and conflict that has shaped her community. It is an unequivocally profound performance by Lovering. Emily is played by Gemma Bird Matheson, memorable for her exuberance and an enjoyable sense of rawness she introduces to the production. It is an extremely likeable presence that she brings. Aleks Mikic takes on separate roles as male counterparts to the leads, succeeding on both counts, with his uncanny ability to convey authenticity whilst dispensing generous measures of natural charm.

Also noteworthy is lighting design by Verity Hampson, efficient yet refined as it helps us navigate movements in time. Production designer Renée Mulder exercises restrained elegance for her work on costumes and set. David Bergman’s sound and music are dramatic but unobtrusive, surreptitiously manipulating our emotional responses as the plot unfolds.

Even in the most ordinary of lives, courage is paramount. Even the most cowardly, have known moments of bravery in order that they may survive. In these challenging times of 2020, we are startled to realise the strength and resilience each can possess. The most noble of us however, have the capacity not only to stay afloat, but to keep making the best choices for the sake of all, when self-preservation seems the order of the day.

www.griffintheatre.com.au

Review: Family Values (Griffin Theatre Company)

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
Theatre review
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.

www.griffintheatre.com.au