Cruise Control | Ensemble Theatre until June 14 | by David Williamson


Reviewed by Ron Lee, CSP Theatre Critic for Sydney Chic

For those of us involved in Sydney theatre, the prospect of a new work by Australia’s most respected, popular and prolific playwright was eagerly anticipated.

What is Cruise Control?

Two Australians, two English people and two New York Jews walk onto a boat. Sounds like the beginning of a joke, and in this production, there are plenty of laughs. The three couples book themselves on the Queen Mary II to enjoy a luxury escape from reality, but instead find themselves trapped in a world of designated dinner seating, forced, uncomfortable social interaction and B-grade cabaret.

Silky Wasserman and husband Sol are an older New York couple. Sol made his money fixing gums (mouths, not trees) and Silky is a savvy, former Off-Broadway casting agent. Sol is also an aspiring, but limited, fiction writer.

The Australians are Imogen Brodie, a former North Shore private schoolgirl who is married to “Bra Boy” Darren. Darren is obsessed with his business ventures, much to the frustration of his sexually eccentric and voracious wife.

The British woman is Fiona Manton, the long-suffering book editor wife of Richard, an experienced and acclaimed fiction writer who is arrogant, smarmy, condescending and invariably “superior”. He is a lounge lizard who will proposition anyone in a skirt and is deeply unpopular with everyone, including, especially, his wife.

The only person who is entirely contented is the shipboard waiter, Charlie (Kenneth Moraleda) who is the least entitled to be happy given that he can only spend two months of the year with his wife and children in the Philippines. Moraleda has been beautifully cast in this role.

The only element that sustains interest in any play, film, book or any other story is conflict, and as the cruise progresses, the physical confinements of a ship bring out the frustrations, pettiness, jealousies and social biases of each personality, culminating in the inevitable, with a lot of laughs on the way.

This is Australian “chocolate box theatre” at its finest. My only issues with this production are minimal. On a cruise ship on which dinner suits are required at dinner, real glasses would be used rather than plastic, and the “glasses” would actually have liquid in them when the characters are drinking.

Was it that David Williamson was also to direct the production that the Ensemble Theatre was able to attract a sensational cast?

Kate Fitzpatrick is again the consummate professional in her seemingly effortless portrayal of Silky, the only woman who truly knows how to handle Richard’s sleaziness. Would you expect anything else? Veteran actor Henri Szeps is the personification of comedic timing. Szeps could, and has, extracted major laughs from lesser scripts. Watching that type of mastery is always a delight, especially when delivering Williamson’s words.

Also perfectly cast are Helen Dallimore as the hot-to-trot Imogen, and Peter Phelps brings out his inner bogan as Darren. I grew up near Maroubra Beach, and his portrayal could not have been more accurate.

Michelle Doake is expectedly superb as Fiona Manton, and her vulnerability is tangible. When Felix Williamson first entered as Richard, I thought he looked like an undertaker, then realised that he had played Paul Keating in the 2010 telemovie, Hawke. Enough said. Williamson junior very much reminds me of a young Hugo Weaving, or is it just that all caucasians look alike? In any case, he is also perfect in the role. Usually with villains, however, we see a vulnerable side with a degree of pathos, but Richard is two-dimensionally evil and has no redeeming character traits.

Cruise Control is an ultimately enjoyable experience and there’s a degree of comfort in seeing familiar stereotypes and plot predictability. I highly recommend it, especially if you haven’t yet seen a David Williamson play.

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