As a young country, Australia is often subjected to questions of identity. Who we are, at times, seems inextricably linked with who we were - a convict colony founded on criminality, the dumping ground for Mother England’s lost souls. Perhaps that’s why an undercurrent of violence still simmers beneath the postcard images of a Sunburnt Country besotted with mateship. It’s this dark side to our cultural psyche that David Williamson seeks to expose and unravel in The Removalists, a play that’s still as relevant today as it was when in debuted back in 1971 at La Mama.
Set in the vicinity of the North Fitzroy police station, the story is based on a yarn told to Williamson by a removalist about the night he helped two sisters shift their belongings with the help of the cops. In the play, one of the sisters has been beaten black and blue by her husband and the cops have come to lend a hand to ensure the proceedings go smoothly. Things take a turn for the worse, however, when the perpetrator becomes the victim in a shocking abuse of police authority.
This new production at the STC has Wayne Blair at the helm. He’s a director who seems to have a deep understanding of the nature of violence, why and how it happens. And while the play is a satire, Blair seems sensitive to the serious reality at its heart and he doesn’t shy away from it. He’s also blessed with an outstanding cast, who each seem to understand the depth and breadth of the material.
Danny Adcock is brilliant and self assured as Sergeant Simmonds, the senior cop who relishes the power trip his role provides. Dale March is sweet and naïve as his young charge, Constable Neville Ross, whose first day it is on the force. The two create a father-son bond that is disturbingly powerful.
Sacha Horler is bolshy, headstrong and hilarious as Kate Mason, the domineering sister who always knows what’s best. Eve Morey lends strong support in portraying the fragility and confusion of Fiona Carter, the young wife who still loves the man who beats her as much as she fears him.
Ashley Lyons delivers a complex and multi-layered performance that shifts superbly between domineering wife beater to empathetic victim with a great command of the subtleties required. While Alan Flower is a real crowd-pleaser and adds delightful comic relief to the proceedings as the beleaguered removalist.
The set itself (Jacob Nash) is a well conceived exercise in minimalism. Small, square and white, it feels like a boxing ring which contains the violence, but only just. The space serves to amplify the tension as the action gains momentum and helps to make us feel that it could spill over at any time.
It’s a slick, tight production and the choice to remove the interval is a good one. It keeps us gripped to the bitter end without a moment’s respite. The only issue I had was with the pacing on the night I attended. Everything seemed to happen awfully quickly, without much time to reflect between the beats. Whether this was a deliberate act on behalf of the director or whether the cast were hastening the proceedings along I couldn’t be sure, but it certainly seemed to be careening along like a runaway train at times. Perhaps I’m wrong and slowing it down would have lessened the impact, but at times things felt a little too smooth and well-rehearsed, which prevented the raw and rough moments of violence from completely sinking in. But really, that’s a small criticism of what is predominately a powerful and perfectly pitched production of a play that should be seen again, now more than ever.
Sydney Theatre Company presents
by David Williamson
Venue: Wharf 1, Sydney Theatre Company, The Wharf, Pier 4, Hickson Road.
Dates: 31 January to 29 March 2009
Tickets: $30 - $75
Bookings: 9250 1777 www.sydneytheatre.com.au
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