Monday, 18 May 1998

The Club, MTC, May 18, 1998

The Club by David Williamson, by Melbourne Theatre Comany
 at Playhouse until June 13, 1998
Reviewed by Kate Herbert around May 17, 1998

If you can get the right blend of footy, jokes and blokes in the one piece of entertainment, you should have a sure-fire hit in Melbourne. Bruce Myles production of David Williamson's The Club has all the ingredients and a bloody good product.

The script, written in 1978, seems strangely contemporary. Its reference to "more than enough industrial strife out in the community" could be about our wharves. The central issue of buying and selling players has not changed, although the dollars may have increased.

The play may appear to be about football but it essentially exposes the power games played by men in their assumed positions of power: coach, president, vice-president and top player. The horror for the purists lies in the realisation that the real power lies with the general manager with his early rational economics principles and 'pragmatic', albeit secretive, purges of the club.

The play is a rollicking good night out. It is a laugh a minute with a cast including great comic actors such as Max Gillies and John Wood who does some wild, goofy clowning as Jock, a vain old hypocrite who unwittingly smokes hashish.

Williamson's earlier plays were better structured than many later works. The Club has a clever rhythm that keeps characters moving on and off stage in various duos, trios, quartets etc. The play demonstrates the worst of machismo, male bravado and vanity.  Characters shift alliances and status like the wind and Myles maintains the pace in spite of the odd patch of banal dialogue..

Rather than fully-rounded personalities, Williamson writes caricatures This allows recognisable footy-world stereotypes to romp unchecked. Some suffer from such two-dimensionality but generally the satire is effective. Many reflect real players who will be recognised by footy followers: the expensive recruit, the doped-out full forward. Others are just great football anecdotes told by ex-players.

Gary Sweet is both rugged and vulnerable as Laurie, the humourless coach whose job is under threat. In fact everybody is under threat from Gerry, the "oily weasel" manager, played with insidious plausibility by Jeremy Stanford.

Richard Roberts’ design depicts realistic clubrooms, complete with old players' photos and views onto the ground at dusk with clever lighting by Jamieson Lewis.

Anyone who pines for the days of football for football's sake will warm to the play's condemnation of money ruling sport - and you'll also get a laugh.


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