The Sydney Independent Theatre Company recently stepped into the empty shoes left by Tamarama Rock Surfers at Woolloomooloo's Old Fitzroy Hotel, which boasts a basement theatre space. TRS has move on to a locale more befitting its moniker, in the Bondi Pavilion, leaving behind a considerable pedigree. Regrettably, Daniela Giorgi's Friday is the first SITCO production I've been able to cover at the company's new home. Giorgi has something of a pedigree too, as the producing half of one of Sydney's boldest and sharpest indie theatre companies, Subtlenuance. Her role as writer, while not unprecedented, represents something of a moonlighting departure.
Friday is, essentially, a political satire and the timing could hardly be riper. When we enter the fray and melee, we gather there's been a (yawn!) sex scandal, spicily consummated on the Premier's desk. Same old, same old. All in a day's work in office. These things, once the stuff of outrage and enough to bring down entire governments barely raise an eyebrow now. The commonplace has a way of eroding and softening our moral outrage and high principle. Giorgi locks onto our cynicism. Such misdemeanours by the few have rendered the many open to suspicion. We've become blasé and, given the incidence of scandal, who can blame us? If you wait, or live, long enough, truth will out and this hovers in the background as a narrative thread in Friday. If secrets are lies, they abound herein.
This may be a fictitious parliament, but it isn't much of a stretch to extrapolate it to one of a number in easy reach of recent memory. It centres around brash Bill Twomey, Minister for Transport, a seasoned performer and easily the best-realised character in the play. Peter Hayes is exceptionally well-cast and directed (by Julie Baz) as the gung-ho, loose cannon; unafraid of anyone, even the big, bad wolf, for he is, pretty much, the big, bad wolf. In characteristic style (or lack thereof, for Giorgi, it seems, has sought out every choice, coarsely colourful turn-of-phrase she can find to slip between Big Bill's lips), Twomey announces his bold new policy direction without the Premier's, or cabinet, approval. He's a bloke who likes to get things done and doesn't believe in letting perfunctory protocol get in the way of a good initiative. Free public transport seemed like a good idea at the time. (And it sure does to me.)
It's hardly surprising those not firmly in his camp, those circling his tent like a pack of starved dingoes, should emerge from the woodwork to stomp on his grave before he's even dead meat, let alone buried bones. One of these is an aggressive young woman, lobbyist for Strong Industries, Carol Steele. There isn't much she won't do to underwrite her career. Actually, there's nothing she won't do. But her overtures to Big Bill are met with short shrift. Bill, for all his faults, seems to have his heart in the right place. But Steele, much as she might be amenable to you having her on the table, isn't the sort you want to have across it. Justine Kacir plays the part with suitably abrasive aplomb.
Steele isn't the only clear-and-present danger to Bill's ambitions. Andrew Armstrong is a precociously young MP, with his eye on the prize. As we discover, his father was Bill's best mate. There's history there. Intrigue. Secrets. And where there are secrets, of course, there are bound to be lies. Tick. Cover-ups. Tick. Regrets. Tick, Animosities. Tick. Retributions. Tick. James Collette is every bit as unlikeable as he ought to be as a villain of the status quo, if not entirely convincing.
The minister's chief-of-staff, Angela Kazantis (Sarah Robinson), stands up well as a loyal servant of her master, but not an unquestioning one. Hers, at least, is a voice of relative, interventionist reason, mediating the malignantly tumorous egos of the Gucci-garbed gladiators. Adrian Barnes is, perhaps, just a little too exaggerated as the old school (tie) Clerk of the Legislature: his euphemistic 'yes ministerial' slick shtick a bit to sitcommunal to serve any sincere satire which, if it's to have teeth to bite, must have deep roots in here-and-now reality, lest it otherwise risk writing itself off as farce, or lampoon lite', laugh-a-minute fare. As it is, the laughs, such as they are, strain to hit the chuckle-button hard enough. At times, it's embarrassing for all concerned: writer; director; actors; audience. At the end of the day, the play is less than successful, though it does manage to send an early warning, or a late one, of the price of cynicism, hard as it is to resist. Here, the pollies may be overwhelmingly self-seeking, but there's the odd skerrick of principle, even where corruption might be present. The journos whose grabs, bytes and headlines lend licence and ammo to oversimplifications, misunderstandings and, thus, the premature deaths of sound policies, nevertheless seem, oddly human. The public servants might just want to keep their jobs, rather than actually do them, but when distracted, serially, by passing clouds of cutbacks, can we not afford some empathy?
No matter how damning, perhaps Giorgi and co are trying to take a more sympathetic, humanistic overview of the tableau vivant that is the political life (and death) of a modern democracy. If that's the case, they might've broken through the tape at the finishing line. But otherwise, it's a bit of a mish-mashup. Twomey is too invested and indulged with larrikinist lingo. No matter how much we might mourn the absence of Keaters, we can't have him back. We threw him over the witless mumblings of the frog-mouthed Howard, remember? Kazantis is, by contrast, a little too Joan of Narrative Arc. Other performances vary from passable to the near-diabolical. It's all over the shop.
Friday is set in the land of the long weekend. A long weekend of intensive workshopping, with all card on the table, might be needed to knock this into better shape.
Sydney Independent Theatre Company presents
by Daniela Giorgi
Director Julie Baz
Venue: Old Fitzroy Theatre | 129 Dowling St (cnr Cathedral St), Woolloomooloo
Dates: 6 – 31 August 2013
Times: 8pm Tues – Sat, 5pm Sun
Tickets: $32 – $26 | $39 – $28 dinner and show
Bookings: www.sitco.net.au | 1300 307 264