The Great Divide

Natasha Ciesielski
23rd Mar 2024

Playwright David Williamson has been named one of Australia’s Living National Treasures. A well-deserved title having written more than 50 plays over 50 years. The prolific writer is meant to be retired, in fact he’s retired twice (2005 and 2020) but anger has spurred him out of retirement and he’s using his pen to offer a glimmer of hope.

Ensemble production The Great Divide looks at the housing crisis and increasing wealth inequality in Australia. Williamson has written a familiar script following a David versus Goliath story structure of a small sleepy coastal town’s battle against a multi-millionaire property developer who wants to turn it into the next Byron Bay. Will Wallis Heads become a hot spot for tourists and the mega rich, resulting in soaring property prices pushing out the towns renting residents or is there still a chance for social housing?

Aussie soap star Georgie Parker plays Alex Whittle, Australia’s richest woman determined not to let supermarket shelf stacker Penny Poulter (played by Emma Diaz) get in the way of her plans for the town. Human greed is strong in Alex, she’s ruthless and has no qualms about using manipulative tactics or ruining the reputations of those who stand in her way.

One of Australia’s most versatile and respected actors Parker has received numerous nominations and awards for her work including two Gold Logies. She’s a master of comedic timing, pausing just long enough to elicit laughter from the audience before returning to the characters' haste pace with sharp, piercing words.

The mother and daughter scenes between Penny and Rachel (played by Caitlyn Burley) were brilliant and the interaction allowed the actresses time to shine. Struggling single mother Penny is heartfelt and Diaz plays this role with passion and gusto. Audiences should look out for Burley in the future. The young talent was exceptional as the angsty teenager, with her big big smiles and quick fire temper.

There was no weak performance in this show, each cast member was compelling in their role. Gold Logie winner John Wood (TV’s Blue Heelers) playing the town Mayor, Kate Raison as Alex’s long suffering personal assistant Grace and James Lugton as the local newspaper editor who holds onto his belief of media integrity despite falling ad sales.

Directed by Mark Kilmurry, Williamson’s outstanding script effectively shows the divide of society and the heartache when life feels like a daily grind, just to make ends meet.

The setting by James Browne is simple with a few tables, chairs and a backdrop of a blueprint of buildings behind a wall of white plantation shutters. The blueprint hints at what the town of Wallis Heads could look like if Alex wins.

The ending felt a little too neat for my liking but Williamson achieved his goal and crafted hope for the audience. Peppered with Aussie colloquial slang and sharp one-liners, The Great Divide is an example of what Williamson does best with strong character roles, gripping conflict and a witty script. Four and a half stars.

Running for two hours including interval The Great Divide is playing now at Ensemble until 27 April.

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Photos by Brett Boardman