In advance of isthisyours? presenting the first ever all-female version of David Williamson’s The Club as part of Belvoir’s 25A program, I managed to track down the extremely prolific and busy playwright.
Over coffee in a Surry Hills cafe, only a stone’s throw from Belvoir St Theatre, I asked David a few questions about his play, AFLW and forging a new path.
Tessa Leong: What was your initial impetus to write The Club in 1977?
David Williamson: Well, it was both a celebration and a satire on the great code of AFL. But more specifically it was about politics and politicking. In a sense it was a satire of male, macho, competitive behaviour and how absolutely ruthless that can be. The truth is, the greatest target of my satire was the bad behaviour of males towards other males. A competitive, political world where treachery is called acumen. As a side issue – the male treatment of females is also tangential and I’m sure you’ll bring it in a little more than tangentially.
TL: Yes, I think hearing those words from womens’ mouths will immediately create a different texture.
DW: Yes, well, the dreadful old thug Jock is an arch-chauvinist.
TL: Actor Jude Henshall who will be playing Jock wanted me to pass on how much she’s enjoying him.
DW: Oh, he’s an old shocker!
TL: Perhaps there’s even more joy for a female actor in playing him? There aren’t many female characters written with his kind of ugliness.
DW: I was interested when I heard your proposal to do the play because it could heighten the satire on two levels: the male behaviour towards males can be delightfully heightened when females are playing the roles; and also the male behaviour towards women can get a boost. So the satirical thrust of the play should…
TL: Oh, I think it will be in sharp relief! Another aspect we’re really interested in for our production is what has changed since you wrote this play. What’s your opinion?
DW: On the surface there’s been a huge shift in values and attitude. All the sporting bodies stress proper and respectful treatment of women. Yet when you look at the clubs’ behaviour in the last couple of years – and the horrendous cases of mistreatment of women – I don’t see them to have lessened. I think males have become very good at mouthing the right words. The actual behaviour at ground level of male sportsmen hasn’t improved one hell of a lot.
TL: I tend to agree. When I look at AFL and AFLW it feels like a lot of values get traded in for that pursuit of money. When it comes to abuse or bad behaviour perpetrated by players, coaches and commentators – it seems almost expected. The clubs and the networks just want the players and commentators back on the job, because they’ve paid millions of dollars for them.
DW: Yes, our federal politics has been just as extraordinary in its expediency with this sort of win-at-all-costs ethos – throwing loyalty and decency out the window. It’s been horrendous! It’s the whole nature of our society that now worships immediate success.
TL: And do you think AFLW might take a similar path to AFL?
DW: I’d like to think – and this might be stereotyping – but I’d like to think that women in power might be more aware of the fruitlessness of vicious competition. That may be wrong, they may be just as happy with that.
TL: It would be nice to find out.
DW: Maybe I’m naive, but who said ‘Males are testosterone-poisoned’? Not that females aren’t competitive but males are insanely competitive. Maybe females can be competitive without being insanely competitive.
TL: It’s a slippery slope though, isn’t it?
DW: I’m interested to see the empirical tests coming out soon on the democracies increasing female representation up towards 50% and whether those societies tend to move in a direction that’s more humane, more people-focused and more compassionate. I suspect they will. Maybe that’s vain hope…
TL: We have to have some hope. Do you find comedy a helpful way for us to look at the difficult or ugly parts of society?
DW: Look, there’s always a moral thrust behind satire, and that moral thrust is a disenchantment with the ethos of contemporary society. I don’t want us to turn into a completely vicious society. I think society means something more. There’s a conservative view that there’s no value in feeling or empathy, there’s nothing but personal advancement. And at the base of satire is a protest against that view. I think the world would be a lot better if personal ambition didn’t totally dominate in our society.
TL: So how do we forge a new path?
DW: I do think there is a crisis of western society. I think there was a victory of neo-conservatism under Thatcher and Reagan and competition and efficiency rapidly became the dominant values of the world. This is a very limited view of the human being as the base of a functioning society. I think most people want a humane society in which compassion isn’t dead and ruthlessness doesn’t reign supreme.