Wednesday, 16 April 2003

Birthrights by David Williamson , April 16, 2003


 Birthrights by David Williamson  
Playhouse, Arts Centre, April 16 to May 17, 2003
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on April 16

David Williamson's new play, Birthrights, is pregnant with issues of contemporary life. It is stuffed so full of issues that characters become mouthpieces rather than individuals.

Their dialogue too often sounds like speeches on social topics. The play becomes didactic. We are lectured on surrogacy, IVF, feminism, aboriginal issues, capitalism, refugees and migration policy, the political Left and the Right, Australian-American relations and even euthanasia. When characters speak so unnaturally, it is almost impossible to empathise with them.

The story deals with two sisters, Helen (Doris Younane) and Claudia (Maria Theodorakis).  Helen, the conservative, suburban wife of Mark,  (Kevin Harrington) a shonky businessman, is infertile and desperately wants a baby.

 Claudia offers to bear a baby fathered by Mark out of love for her older sister. She does so despite the interruption to her career as a lefty lawyer, potential damage to her relationship with Martin  (Peter Houghton) and her own lack of interest in children. 

What transpires is years of competing for the love of Kelly,  (Asher Keddie), the child we do not see until she is eighteen. Their radical lawyer mother, Margaret.  (Deidre Rubenstein) mediates the sibling rivalry for years.

The play is topical, often funny and argues many points relevant to our modern society. The entire cast works very hard to invest these characters with life and emotion. The problem is that the script lacks any true emotional engagement with characters or issues. These sisters do not communicate like women.

It is difficult to engage partly because this family is so relentlessly dislikeable and also because the story stretches over decades which disallows our knowing them fully. Scenes and dialogue are repetitious. In real time these reiterations are years apart but in stage time we hear them within two hours. Family members may obsess over things for a lifetime, but on stage it is simply unnecessary repetition.

Tom Gutteridge's direction is swift and slick. There are too many scenes but Gutteridge keeps changes moving quickly.

David Franzke's  soundscape is unobtrusive but evocative. Lighting by David Walters  creates atmosphere and the passing of time.  Louise McCarthy's spare stage design echoes the emptiness of the lives on stage and allows the space to be transformed easily.

This is a disappointing script that could be cut by half without losing anything.

By Kate Herbert

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