Friday, 5 February 2010

Farragut North ****1/2

Farragut North 
By Beau Willimon, Red Stitch Actors Theatre
 Rear 2 Chapel St., St. Kilda, February 5 to March 6, 2010
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
Stars: 4****1/2
Published in Herald Sun

The zesty dialogue crackles with wit and adrenalin in Farragut North, by Beau Willimon. The play dives headlong into the secretive, manipulative world of a political campaign for the nomination of the US Democratic presidential candidate. It is a world of spin doctors, ambitious interns, fawning campaign assistants, cut-throat journalists and competing party factions. This world makes you want to be a kindergarten teacher.

If you’re a West Wing fan, the characters, issues, whirlwind negotiations and back stabbing will be familiar. An hour is a very long time in politics. Careers and reputations are ruined in minutes with an ill-chosen word or a secret meeting. Willimon worked on political campaigns, including Sen. Hillary Clinton’s, and his inside knowledge gives authenticity and credibility to his revengers’ tragedy-style plotting. Give them swords and kings to overthrow and it could be Shakespeare.

Brett Cousins is driven and hard-headed as Stephen, 25-year old Press Secretary for Presidential candidate, Morris. He is a battery-powered machine, a calculating, media wunderkind who controls the campaign message. David Whiteley plays, with battle-wearied assurance, Stephen’s boss, Paul, the campaign warhorse who demands loyalty – although Whiteley appears a little too fit and youthful.

Stephen wrangles voracious Times journalist, Ida, who is played with steely determination by Karen Roberts. Lucy Honigman is sassy and confident as clever intern, Molly, who seduces her bosses. Tim Potter is marvellously understated and obsequious as lurking Deputy Press Secretary, Ben, who Stephen ignores to his own detriment.

Iowa seems to be in the bag and their candidate looks set to win. But Stephen’s dreams of a golden future crumble after he meets secretly with opposition Campaign Manager, Tom, portrayed with calm, ruthless confidence by Kurt Geyer.

Willimon’s script is cleverly crafted with plenty of plot twists and red herrings. Kim Durban’s production is taut and her direction of this accomplished cast is assured. Peter Mumford’s design is stark, cool and flexible in the small space and the entire production gives the impression of a rarefied, secretive world of intrigue, conspiracy and menace.

Life in this political fast lane is short, dangerous and not to be trusted. There is little to criticise in this script and Durban’s production. It is funny, challenging, superbly acted and inventively plotted. Aaron Sorkin must be jealous!

By Kate Herbert

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