Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Emerald City, Griffin, Stables Theatre

David Williamson's 1987 comedy came at an interesting time in his career - during the 80s, he wrote only five plays, while also writing thirteen produced screenplays. Which is probably why in this play the central character is a successful screenwriter - frequently feted by everybody as highly talented. and with a strong ethical core that gets him into trouble as often as not.

Fortunately, despite the wildly self-serving premise, "Emerald City" is also one of Williamson's wittiest and most thoughtful plays. While the initial circumstances are far removed from everyday life, somewhere in the middle of act one it becomes clear that the various ethical dilemmas and compromises aren't just in the film industry - there's broader ethical questions about how far do we really care about the world outside our own door and what should we really be doing with our lives going on.

As the Williamson surrogate, Mitchell Butel has a easy charming semi-gormlessness that serves him well - it's a bit astonishing that he is, in fact, old enough to be having a mid-life crisis, but never the less he sells it well. Lucy Bell as his wife is both patient, mildly exasperated audience to his rants and her own very active, compassionate, intelligent woman. She has a knack for spotting bullshit without being unnecessarily unkind, and really sells the deeper questions of the script. Ben Winspear plays the sleaziest of the tempters on the edge of caricature but brings back his inner humanity and emotional motivations to keep him human. Kelly Paterniti is, similarly, written just on the edge of being a blatant sex-object, but she adds intelligence and style to keep things iteresting. Jennifer Hagan gets some of the snarkiest comments and lands both her intelligence and ego wonderfully.

Lee Lewis directs with a good speedy energy - Williamson's longer rants are kept active with stage business to ensure nothing gets too bogged down in re-iterating what's already understood. A gloriously 80's Ken Done mural captures the era wonderfully, keeping Sydney harbour as glossily tempting as ever. Kelly Ryall's music has some idetifiably 80's notes that act as short bumpers between scenes, and Luiz Pampolha's lighting similarly captures regular shifts of location and mood.

This isn't the deepest show ever, but it's good fast entertainment with a bit of a brain, and is worth catching.

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