The Perth Theatre Company have fittingly chosen David Williamson’s The Removalists as their “swan song” performance at the Playhouse Theatre. Due to take up residence at the new State Theatre Centre of Western Australia on the corner of William St and Roe St in Northbridge, this production marks both the beginning and an end for the theatre company.
Heralded as one of Australia’s most celebrated playwrights, Williamson has created a play that forces us to reflect on a moment in Australian history that we are not entirely comfortable with. Although it was written over 30 years ago, the piece remains relevant and still has the ability to make us laugh one moment and feel shocked the next.
At its heart the play is about power, the use of it, the misuse of it and the loss of it.
Surprisingly young but talented director Melissa Cantwell has brought together a team of actors that work well together and successfully capture the intentions of the script, bringing it to life with skill and ease.
Fiona Carter (played by Fiona Pepper) is the victim of domestic violence. With the aid of her sister Kate (played by Kim Walsh) she lodges a report at her local police station where Sergeant Dan Simmonds (Greg McNeill) and young Constable Neville Ross (Sam Devenport) ask to witness her bruises, forcing her into a vulnerable position that smacks of sexual harassment.
Yet buoyed by her sister’s confidence (which stems from her sexual power over men) Fiona is determined to no longer be a victim and shifting the balance of power back in her favour she decides to leave her husband, taking their daughter and furniture to boot. Hoping to improve their chances of sexual favours, Sergeant Simmonds and Constable Ross seize the opportunity to help the ladies coordinate Fiona’s move out of her husband’s house.
Back at the house Fiona’s plans go awry when her husband Kenny (Philip Miolin) unexpectedly returns home early on a Friday night and refuses her suggestions that he enjoy a counter meal out with his friends. We catch a glimpse of the chauvinistic behaviour Fiona has been forced to endure and sympathise with her as her husband treats her like a subservient maid and a tool for the gratification of his sexual desires.
Enter the removalist (Jon English) who is hired by Sergeant Simmonds to move Fiona’s furniture to her new flat. The dramatic tension continues to mount, only to be broken by comic Australian humour and then rebuilt as each of the characters try to manipulate their power over one another, culminating in a shocking conclusion.
What I particularly enjoyed about this production was the unique set design by Leon Krasenstein. Although I didn’t understand his motivation for his first set, which looked almost like the police station had been “framed” creating a physical barrier between the actors and the audience, the second set inside Fiona and Kenny’s home worked well. Like a large cube – the inside floor, walls and ceiling were lined with wood panelling reminiscent of the 70s, even the doors were covered in the same panelling, camouflaging them. This gave the impression that the actors were trapped inside – which indeed became the case for Kenny who was handcuffed to one of the doors and left at the mercy of his captors.
I enjoyed the cameo role by English, but although he’ll no doubt be a star attraction for patrons, I found the other performers to be just as entertaining. In particular McNeil and Miolin gave solid and convincing performances demonstrating the effect of power shifts and the unpredictable behaviours that result.
Overall a good production - though the script could have been improved with a more speedy conclusion, as the action seemed to be dragged out towards the ending.
Perth Theatre Company presents
by David Williamson
Venue: Playhouse Theatre
Dates: Friday 27 August - Saturday 11 September 2010
Times: Evening Performances - 8pm (no Sunday performances)
Matinee: Saturday 4 September, 2.15pm
Tickets: Standard $50, Concession $45