Reviewed by Ron Lee
27 August 2014
by David Williamson
The Concourse, Chatswood until September 18.
The Ensemble Theatre has embarked on a rarely-produced concept in Sydney theatre.
Australia’s most respected and prolific playwright, David Williamson, became intrigued by a concept called “Community Conferencing”, also known as “Restorative Justice”, and was inspired to write a series of plays known as The Jack Manning Trilogy.
In the 1970s and 1980s, Community Conferencing first gained broader popularity in Europe, New Zealand and North America as a way of using community discussion to divert young people away from the more intimidating, bureaucratic and costly courts system. The community conferencer interviews the victim, the perpetrator and each of their supporters individually, then invites them all into the room to discuss what has happened, how everyone has been affected and how to prevent it from occurring again. It’s more mediation than arbitration. Compared with arbitration, Community Conferencing can be more impactful, creative, constructive, meaningful, powerful and the effects can be longer-lasting.
In the first play, Face To Face, Glenn (Andrew Cutliffe), who has anger issues with other men, has been sacked by Greg (Warren Jones), the CEO of a scaffolding company and takes revenge by ramming Greg’s new Mercedes, with Greg inside. So Greg is the victim, right? Maybe, maybe not.
The other characters are Glenn’s workmate, Luka (Adriano Cappelletta), Glenn’s mother, Maureen (Ally Fowler, of Chantoozies fame) Jack (Glenn Hazeldine), Therese the accountant (Catherine McGraffin), Richard the foreman (Jamie Oxenbould), secretary Julie (Jessica Sullivan), Greg’s long-suffering wife, Claire (Fiona Press) and Barry, played by Kristian Schmid, who perfectly portrays Glenn’s bogan best mate.
This play is a true ensemble (small “e”) piece, with equal focus on each character and credit to director Sandra Bates for assembling the fine cast.
From the point that they agree that the incident occurred, the discussion takes us on a journey of twists and tangents that are utterly enthralling. The vehicles for uncovering the backstories are Rogerian Psychology, the Socratic Method and the other techniques of communication and mediation that make up Community Conferencing.
In these interventions, the participants usually sit in a circle, but for theatricality, they sit on chairs in an arc in front of nothing but black drapes and a coffee and tea table upstage, so it all relies on the script and its interpretation.
In any play or story, the main element that sustains our interest is conflict. This has it in spades, and supports the theory that today’s victim is tomorrow’s criminal.
The Jack Manning Trilogy challenges the 19 actors to take on 26 different characters over the five-week season. You can choose to see the plays consecutively, in repertory or all in one day. I don’t remember the last time rep theatre was done by a professional Australian theatre company. Of course, the danger with rep is that the actors might forget lines or confuse the dialogue with one of the other plays, but this cast will be up to the task.
Rather than admire the acting, it’s always better to be emotionally involved in a play.
If Face To Face is an indication of the quality of the other two, A Conversation and Charitable Intent, then I highly recommend that you see all three. You will be taken on an emotional ride.