King Tide | Griffin Theatre CompanyLeft - Toni Scanlon & Masa Yamaguchi. Cover - Toni Scanlon. Photos - Olivia Martin McGuire

Katherine Thomson’s
immensely affecting new play, King Tide, deals with both the personal grief of a family and broader, contemporary moral issues.

King Tide has particular resonance in the light of a federal election in which one of the key choices is between a culture preoccupied with personal wealth and one that engages with social, international and environmental concerns.

Sal (Toni Scanlon) an investigative political journalist, closes down socially, emotionally and professionally following the accidental drowning of her son two years ago. She has retreated to her beach house with her 17 year old daughter Beck (Kathryn Beck) and has begrudgingly taken in Taka, a Japanese house guest (Masa Yamaguchi).

Sal’s corporate high flyer brother, Jack (Russell Kiefel) unexpectedly visits with his obnoxious new, neocon girlfriend, Natalie, artfully played by Anita Hegh.

Jack has come to execute a plan devised behind Sal’s back: to take Beck back to the city to do her HSC at an expensive private school and escape her mother’s stultifying depression.

Thomson uses this crisis to bring the family together so she can comment on broader moral values. Through it she depicts the shift in our cultural priorities over the last decade, away from social responsibility towards self centred materialism.

Thomson doesn’t pull any punches with her opinion of the effects of a materially driven society. Each of her characters represents a different aspect of it: the corruption of the corporate sector, the moral complacence of the affluent and the younger generation’s desire to pursue wealth instead of their ideals. Each character represents a type, but none of the performances falls into cliché, delivering an honesty that surpasses stereotype.

Director Patrick Nolan elicits uniformly strong and honest performances from his cast, marvelously led by Toni Scanlon’s fragile, difficult, grieving Sal. Scanlon gives an intense and painful portrayal of the disabling effects of grief. In her grief, Sal’s political idealism has turned to self righteousness.

Anita Hegh is just right as the insensitive and equally self righteous Natalie who has successfully blocked out any concern beyond her personal needs. She blithely maintains a relentless pro military, pro wealth, anti union and anti welfare line, which is simultaneously comic and serious.

Torn by the conflicting needs of his sister, niece and girlfriend, Jack also has serious problems of his own. Russell Kiefel plays Jack with a wretched anxiety. Kiefel’s bleary, disheveled and morally compromised Jack embodies commercial expedience.

With Jack’s visit Sal has to battle on all sides to defend her values: against Natalie’s right wing politics, Jack’s dodgy ethics and Beck’s disillusionment with causes and new found desire for materialism. Thomson laments the lack of protest in contemporary life and that our youth are no longer critical of society, but complicit and compliant.
In Thomson’s view, the moral silence is not just pervading Australian society. Taka, the mysterious Japanese surfer, brings an entirely different thematic dimension to the play. Masa Yamaguchi does a great job, conveying much of the play’s humour. Thomson uses this character to illustrate the effect that destroying a sense of social responsibility has. She draws parallels with Japan, suggesting that, Japan has also become a compliant society, lacking in protest and criticism, albeit for different reasons.

Designer Alice Babidge’s stark, chalky white stage and Bernie Tan’s lighting sets a lonesome tone. Mic Gruchy’s video images projected onto the back walls, together with Scott Saunders’ soundscape, punctuated with the deafening sound of the surf crashing, create an atmosphere of solitude, loss and an impending threat.

Well crafted and full of wit, King Tide is let down ever so slightly by an ending that is possibly too neat. However, that is a minor quibble over an otherwise very fine piece of work.

Griffin Theatre Company presents the World Premiere of
by Katherine Thomson

Venue: SBW Stables Theatre, 10 Nimrod Street, Kings Cross NSW 2011
Previews: Previews 19 – 23 October 2007
Premiere: 26 October
Season: 26 October – 24 November
Times: Monday at 6:30pm. Tuesday to Saturday at 8pm. Saturday Matinee at 2pm
Prices: Full $42. Snr $35. Preview/Matinee/Conc. $32. Group 8+ $32. Under 30 $25
Bookings: 1300 306 776 or online at

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