Hitting up a new play on the eve of Australia Day might seem a strange thing to do, but being given the opportunity to see the latest offering by an iconic Australian playwright made the decision a no brainer for me.
So, the play is called Sorting Out Rachel. The playwright is none other than David Williamson - the guy whose plays can be named by just about anyone who has been schooled in NSW in the last forty years. Opening night was Wednesday, 24 January, the season runs until 17 March at the highly local but professional Ensemble Theatre down on the watersedge of Kirribilli in a tranquil spot on Careening Cove. You can come by ferry (both High Street, North Sydney or Kirribilli wharves are close by) or if you must drive, arrive early to nab a prized car space. Enjoy pre-theatre drinks and dinner at either Bayley's (within the Ensemble Theatre building) or at Foys Kirribilli as its conveniently situated neighbour in the Royal Sydney Flying Squadton clubhouse. Either way, being close to the water during twilight is magical. This type of experience is as much in Sydney's pysche as is being entertained by actors treading the boards to the beat of such a celebrated Australian wordsmith.
There is a reason why Willianson's appeal goes beyond avid theatre goers and is also held in high esteem by the everyday Australian. He is a keen observer of human interactions and talks directly to Australians. His writing is on a level that authentically captures the language, morals and desires of the moment. He gets to the heart of what is driving society, delivering his message in witty captivating dialogue that mirrors completely what we have heard on the streets, at the loal cafe and schools, or at our clubs and workplaces. We either see our friends abd neughbours portrayed in a Williamson play, or heaven help us, even ourselves. During the interval I overheard some of the patrons commenting that the play was intense. For me this was a sure sign that Williamson had got the dialogue absolutely correct. It was intense as i suspect the whole scenario was very close to the bone.
Sorting Out Rachel is no different in this respect. It's like an entertaining biting wake up call that highlights the extreme level of shallowness we are sinking to right now as a society. He shines a spotlight on society's taste for airing dirty laundry, receiving accolades for charitable works, chasing social media and street cred status, becoming wealthy with ease through inheritance and displaying grand trappings of wealth like living in overpriced mansions in salubrious suburbs, attending ultra private schools and playing at exclusive golf clubs.
In exploring our current fads, Williamson presents a seemingly normal family and digs around to expose the vulnerabilitues existing within. A catalyst is skillfully used in the opening scene to start the plot of how John Howard's character of shrewd wealthy elderly businessman Bruce, is going to get to know and bond with his snotty nosed spoilt drama queen of a granddaughter Rachel (played with acute accurateness by Jenna Owens) who just happens to have inherited his shrewdness and is therefore someine worth taking an interest in once he has sorted her out with the aid of her mother (acted in perfect realism by Natalie Seleeba), In doing all of this Bruce not only sorts out Rachel but also his legitimate daughter, Julie who has always been a sweet doormat of a mother to Racel and wife to sleazy, cunning Craig convincingly played by Glenn Hazeldine.
The catalyst comes in the shape of Tess, Bruce's illigitimate daughter (played by confronting her father and putting forward a proposal that could ultimately change everyone's life. It doesn't hurt that the Tess is Aboriginal - a nod to our desire to be in synch with political correctness and for earning street cred for appearing to want it improve relations with our Indigenous population.
The direction of the actors by Nadia Tass brings Williamson's words to life in a realistic believable fashion. Attention to detail in current mannerisms and atfitudes is evident, rught down to our penchant of continually checking our mobile phones while waiting for people to arrive at an applointment. The acting is complemented by simple yet clever stage and costume design by Tibhiyah Stone Feller. The minimal sets and use of projected images create a space on stage that complement the scenes.
Definitely worth adding to your list of outings. Sorting Out Rachel will make you squirm and cringe but most of all laugh and entertain.
Sorting Out Rachel is on at Ensemble Theatre, Kirribilli until Saturday March 17th. Production photo by Heidrun Lohr.