Face to Face by David Williamson. Ensemble Theatre directed by Sandra Batesat The Playhouse, March 21-23, 2000, 8pm, March 24-25 6pm and 9pm. Professional.
"Sorry to interrupt," said the Year 11 Drama student while I was asking Sandra Bates about how she achieved such realism from her actors, "but I have to do an assignment on the importance of David Williamson in Australian theatre." "Absolutely important," said Bates, "because he writes for the audience right now without caring about how important he is."
Diversionary conferencing is a right-now issue not just because it's having an extensive trial here and elsewhere but because it is the opposite end of the line which leads to mandatory sentencing. Should Glen go to jail for deliberately ramming his boss's Mercedes, when he's just been dismissed for his uncontrollable temper? Fortunately you can watch an expert convenor deal with an explosive situation - and you'll find yourself laughing, and maybe weeping - from the safety of your theatre seat.
Did Bates make the play work so well, or has Williamson at last really stopped caring about his importance? Actor Amos Szeps told me Bates gave the cast freedom to develop their characters but Bates explained that she rehearsed the play as if it were a real conference. Geoff Cartwright, playing the convenor as it really happens, separately interviewed each actor in role before full rehearsals began to get their agreement to attend the conference. So he knows things about each character that the other actors don't know he knows. This gives him the power to challenge each character/actor differently in each performance to create the spark of reality which this issue needs.
It certainly worked in the 104th performance which opened the Canberra season on Tuesday, so I can be confident of its ongoing success. But it wouldn't work without Williamson's tight writing, the best he has done since The Removalists 30 years ago. In 90 minutes 10 characters reveal themselves, their personal relationships, their class and cultural conflicts - a concentrated three-dimensional model of Australians at work.
Face to Face raises David Williamson's level of importance as a playwright. The Ensemble team is excellent. Justice is done. With discretion. It's mandatory to attend.
© Frank McKone M.A., F.A.C.E.
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