Griffin Theatre’s programming of vintage plays into its all-Australian season has yielded some outstanding theatre in recent years; a perfectly-pitched Speaking in Tongues in 2011, a seething remount of The Boys in 2012, and a gut-wrenching production of The Floating World in 2013.
Lee Lewis’ staging of David Williamson’s 1987 comedy is the least compelling of these revivals to date.
Yes, it delivers on the warm and fuzzy affection for times past. Yes, it alerts us to what has and has not changed over 30 years and that, arguably, is reason enough for this remount. What it does most effectively, however, is highlight Williamson’s idiosyncratic style.
Played against a garish Ken Done-designed diorama of Sydney harbour (curtained off in act II, something of a relief for the eyes), Lewis’ production is fast-moving and the relationships between its characters are clearly drawn. So too are the guilt-ridden contradictions between characters’ thoughts and actions, which Williamson helpfully spotlights with the subtlety of a kangaroo shooter.
Mitchell Butel skitters between ethical pillar and post as Colin, a 40-something screenwriter aghast at the direction the Australian film industry is taking yet fearful enough to sell his artistic soul.
Ben Winspear, who stepped in to replace an indisposed Marcus Graham to play the parasitic wheeler dealer Mike McCord four days before the first preview, has done exceptionally to nail his lines and create the solid shell of a character. McCord is a gruff, growly prefab at the moment but Winspear clearly has the capacity to add detail as the season rolls on and the comedy will be richer for it.
Lucy Bell finds truth as Colin’s partner Kate, whose seduction by the bright lights is no less complete but less interestingly explored.
Kelly Paterniti is opportunism incarnate as PR babe Helen. Jennifer Hagan is deliciously dry as Elaine, Colin’s agent and producer.
Emerald City played in the Opera House Drama Theatre back in 1987 and it feels like Williamson wrote the play with that scale of theatre in mind.
This overstuffed script is probably easier to declaim into the dark than it is to bring to life in an intimate setting.