Thursday, 11 January 2007

Don’s Party by David Williamson, MTC, Jan 11, 2007

Don’s Party by David Williamson
Melbourne Theatre Company
Playhouse Theatre, Victorian Arts Centre, Jan 11 to Feb 10, 2007
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Jan 11

Don’s Party is stuffed with crass, drunken, educated yobs. 

Regrettably, these types are familiar 35 years after Williamson’s premiere in 1972. Don’s 1969 election night party begins as a tentative, chips and Twisties evening then morphs into a booze-fuelled, sex-crazed wake for the Labour Party as hopes are dashed of the Left winning the election after 20 years of Liberal government.

Williamson’s satirical style changed little over the decades and his habit of plundering the idiosyncrasies of a “tribe” for humour and pain is evident in this early play. Although, technically, the script is a bumpy ride and the characters have broad brushstrokes, the play, under Peter Evans’ direction, is outrageously funny.

Don (Steve Le Marquand), a schoolteacher, dumped his aspirations to write the great Aussie novel when he moved to the suburbs with his depressed, dissatisfied wife, Kath (Mandy McElhinney). His best mate, Mal (Christopher Pitman), a sleazy psychologist, sold out his radical politics to work as an executive head-hunter while Mal’s wife, Jenny (Alison Whyte), is jaded and fiercely upwardly mobile.

Kath’s timid, conservative voter friends, pretty Jody (Felicity Price) and her dull, accountant husband, Simon (Glenn Hazeldine), might prefer being fed to the lions to partying with these rabid Labourites.

Kerry (Anita Hegh), a pretentious artist who believes in free love, upsets her bitter and possessive dentist husband, Evan (Colin Lane). Mack (Travis McMahon), a weedy engineer, has a penchant for naughty photography and Cooley (Rhys Muldoon) is a foul-mouthed, promiscuous, boozing, sexist, incorrigible rogue who passes for a lawyer by day. Susan (Jacinta Stapleton), a part-time stripper, is his date.

The entire cast is accomplished. Muldoon is outstanding as Cooley, playing him with a blend of raffish charm and grotesque loutishness. Hazeldine is a highlight, enlivening the dowdy Simon with impeccable comic timing. Price’s flighty Jody is a gem and Whyte’s grim Jenny is a cunning contrast.

Although it looks like a period piece with Dale Ferguson’s naturalistic 60s set and costumes, not a great deal has changed in the behaviour of drunken political zealots in nearly 40 years.  Williamson paints a nasty picture of failing marriages, disappointed lovers, shattered dreams and lost hopes. Strangely, it all adds up to some great gags at the expense of everyone.

This play is from Williamson’s golden period, the early 70s and, as long as you do not crave critical social or political commentary, it is a very funny night in the theatre.

By Kate Herbert

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