Monday, June 13, 2022

EMERALD CITY - Free Rain Theatre


Daniel Greiss (Mike) and Hanna Lance (Helen) in "Emerald City". 

Written by David Williamson – Directed by Anne Somes – Set Design by Cate Clelland

Costume Design by Fiona Leach – Lighting Design by Chris Ward – Sound Design by Justin Mullins – Original Music by Alexander Unikowski.

ACT HUB – June 8 – 22nd 2022.

Performance on 11th June reviewed by Bill Stephens.

David Williamson’s scathing satire on the film and publishing industries is the third production presented in Canberra’s newest theatre venue, the ACT Hub, and confirms initial positive impressions of the value to Canberra’s burgeoning theatre scene of this cosy intimate, venue.  

“Emerald City” was premiered by the Sydney Theatre Company in 1987, and performed later the same year in the Canberra Theatre with an all-star cast which included John Bell, Ruth Cracknell, Robyn Nevin, Drew Forsythe, Andrea Moor and Dennis Grosvenor.

It is therefore an interesting choice for Director Anne Somes to introduce Free Rain Theatre at the ACT Hub. Somes too has assembled an excellent cast who do justice to a play which Williamson admits is loosely based on his own life at the time, and which now represents an interesting microcosm of middle-class society in Sydney at that time.

Victoria Tyrrell Dixon (Kate) - Isaac Reilly (Colin) in "Emerald City"

“Emerald City” looks at the lives of six upwardly mobile people living in Sydney in the 1980’s. Their lives are centred on screenwriter, Colin (played in this production by Isaac Riley) who is struggling with a mid-career crisis.  Surrounding Colin is his literary agent wife, Kate, (Victoria Tyrell Dixon) who is lobbying for a Booker Prize for a novel by her aboriginal client ;  Colin’s hard-nosed agent, Elaine (Helen McFarlane) who is worried that Colin’s writing might be on the wane; an unscrupulous hack-writer Mike,  (Daniel Greiss) who’s persuaded Colin to team with him to script a mildly successful  television series ; Mike’s worldly young girl-friend Helen (Hannah Lance) to whom Colin finds himself attracted; and  Malcolm,(Patrick Collins) a producer and sometimes financier of  Colin’s projects.

Helen McFarlane as Elaine in "Emerald City"

Through these characters Williamson, after raising the hackles of his audience by commencing his play with a discussion between Colin and Kate comparing the virtues of Sydney and Melbourne, demonstrates his mastery of the idiom by having them indulge in a succession of arguments in which they question each other’s integrity in relation to their work ethics, parenting and morals.

During these arguments his characters frequently address the audience directly or indulge in inner-dialogues while coping with their own responses to the wounding and witty ripostes of their adversaries, in wordy arguments which nevertheless remain as relevant today as they were in the 1980’s.

Williamson has the gift of creating easily relatable characters and in the hands of this fine ensemble cast they are brought vividly to life costumed by Fiona Leach in stylish 1980’s fashion in an elegant two-level setting designed by Cate Clelland which deftly accommodates the various locales required.

But given the overall excellence of the production it seemed a pity that more imaginative solutions weren’t attempted to the staging challenges posed by the many locale changes other than simply having the actors walk on and off the stage, or that more attention wasn’t paid to character’s responses which sometimes made it unclear which of the monologues were interior thoughts and which were conversation.

Those reservations apart,  with “Emerald City”,  Free Rain Theatre has  succeeded in producing a highly entertaining and sophisticated production of one of the best plays in the canon of Australia’s most celebrated playwrights.


                                                  Images by Cathy Breen