That this is the first attempt at a stage performance should be massively impressive. The writing is tight, the acting is solid, the staging is adventurous, and there's a feeling of confidence about the whole thing you might not expect with a debut.
However, as you are probably already aware, the creators of The Speechmaker are none other than the Working Dog team, who have been creating quality comedy and satire for the big and small screens for the last couple of decades. Rob Sitch, Santo Cilauro and Tom Gleisner (along with Jane Kennedy) are the familiar faces behind such television successes as The Hollowmen and Frontline (and many more), as well as highly successful movies such as The Dish and The Castle. Rob, Santo and Tom are responsible for this one, and obviously they know how to write, so moving to the stage isn't really such a big deal, especially with the backing of the MTC and its wealth of talent.
The Speechmaker follows the President of the USA – bathing in the afterglow of his best speech to date – and his entourage as they board Airforce One and head to England to visit the President's friend, The British PM. A short time into the flight it emerges that a plot has been uncovered to assassinate an important European leader. Further revelations emerge that put the president and his team in a sticky moral situation. There is no turning back, and apparently no way to stop the the assassination. Having such detailed knowledge about the plot and the plotters, what is the president to do?
The first third of the play goes for the laughs and is very much a fast paced farce. The entourage are all egotistic, superficial minders and media types, manipulative and self-serving. You've seen these sterotypes countless times before, so the play really needed to step up a gear because a whole performance of this type of farce was going to get a bit tired.
Fortunately, with the unfolding moral dilemma, it does indeed engage on another level. Questions are raised about the true nature of power, the power of political speeches and their relevance to political action. The farcical nature endured but with this darker, very real angle, things got interesting. At one point I was reminded of Kubrick's classic, Dr Strangelove. I think it was the big cast of zany characters dealing with a big, serious situation disturbingly possible in the real world... characters so absurd that they couldn't possibly be in positions of power. Could they?
The set is one of the more dynamic to be seen recently, a great big Lazy Susan type of thing that spins to enhance the pace and aid in speedy set changes. Set Designer Dale Ferguson has done an excellent job in putting Airforce One on stage.
The performances are also excellent with a cast dripping with talent. How they managed to bounce of each other with well timed lines and negotiate the big spinning wheel boggles this mono-tasking writer. The comedy is mostly good. It's not brilliant satire of, say, Frontline, and certainly at times it does seem a bit forced. At times it's a bit like the notes from the boys in the program where they seem to have decided that a joke is required in every paragraph with the result that it becomes a little annoying to read. Not that I'm suggesting that the comedy in the play is annoying, it's mostly very good, just not flawless.
Overall though, the play is good and should satisfy anyone who enjoyed The Castle or The Dish. And don't arrive late or you'll miss the pre-show selection of cheesy American power ballads, including the highly motivational song Montage from the movie Team America.
Melbourne Theatre Company presents
by Santo Cilauro, Tom Gleisner and Rob Sitch
Director Sam Strong
Venue: Arts Centre Melbourne, Playhouse
Dates: 31 May – 5 July 2014
Tickets: from $60 | under 30s $33
Bookings: 03 8688 0800 | mtc.com.au