Kate Herbert is theatre reviewer, Herald Sun, Melbourne & formerly for Melbourne Times. Kate is a director & produced playwright (20 plays). Scripts published by Currency Press. She worked as an actor, comedian, improviser & teacher of Acting, Improvisation & Playwriting. Kate is currently Convenor of Professional Writing & Editing, Swinburne University. Read her reviews here or at: www.heraldsun.com.au/entertainment/arts. NB Explorer Browser doesn't always work on blog.
Thursday, 5 June 2014
The Speechmaker, June 5, 2014 ***
By Santo Cilauro, Tom Gleisner & Rob
Sitch Melbourne Theatre Company Playhouse, Arts Centre
Melbourne, until July 5, 2014 Reviewer: Kate Herbert Stars:*** Saw this last night. Full review now below and also online at Herald Sun. KH
Erik Thomson (James Bickford, President USA), Nicholas
Bell (Bob, White House Chief of Staff)Pic Jeff Busby
If you are expecting The
Speechmaker to be a scathing satire of US politics you will be disappointed,
because its comedy is far less penetrating.
The script employs a
certain comical cynicism, but it looks like farce or extended sketch comedy,
which reflects the background of writers, Santo Cilauro, Tom Gleisner and Rob
Sitch, who are renowned for their clever, television comedy shows.
However, the play lacks
the complex layers and corrosive, political commentary of the extraordinary UK
satire, The Thick Of It, which mocks the British government so blisteringly, or
the incisive character observations of Max Gillies or John Clark.
President, James Bickford (Erik Thomson), boards Air Force One with his
entourage of fawning micro-managers after his Christmas speech, styled by a
reality TV director (Toby Truslove), starts trending on Twitter.
board, the President’s image machine takes flight as his advisors devise
increasingly mad and manipulative ways of elevating his status, until the
Defence Secretary (David James) and his professorial Under-Secretary (Lachy
Hulme) reveal the most bizarre and, until now, secret strategy.
Speechmaker is entertaining and its single, ethical dilemma (no spoiler here)
has promise for a political comedy, but the narrative lacks complexity and its
trajectory leads to a predictable ending.
Sam Strong, casts an impressive collection of television and stage performers
who enjoy the cut and thrust of the fast, comic dialogue.
strangely, the production fails to engage and the audience response at curtain
first 30 minutes is the weakest, with too much farcical rushing about and
moving of furniture, although, by the middle of the play, the more serious
issues take hold and focus the action and characters.
than challenging the audience with its issues, the play leaves one wanting more
penetrating satirical analysis of political corruption, empire building, secret
deals, king making, image marketing and control of the news cycle.
all members of the President’s entourage are portrayed as corporate hacks or
mono-cultural idiots who don’t know where Bulgaria is on the map, who think the
whole world is Christian, value form over content and reality TV over truth.
characters are two-dimensional cyphers or mouthpieces for particular, jokey
clichés about Americans, apart from Nicholas Bell’s Chief of Staff, who is the
sole voice of reason and ethics.
it is called The Speechmaker, the President’s two speeches that bookend the
play are simplistic and manufactured – albeit intentionally.
we crave is a perfectly wrought, political speech (think of Aaron Sorkin’s inspired
speech writing in West Wing) that justifies the public being duped by this
puppet president but also masks his shallowness and duplicity.
its capable cast, the light entertainment of The Speechmaker is ultimately
unsatisfying and the issues it raises fade to vapour overnight. by Kate Herbert
Director Sam Strong Set & Costume Designer Dale Ferguson
Composer & Sound
Designer Russell Goldsmith
Kat Stewart (Katie Mitchell, Senior Political Advisor), Sheridan
Harbridge (Alex Wyatt, White House Press Secretary), Erik Thomson
(James Bickford, President of the United States). Pic Jeff Busby