Updated: Aug 27, 2019
Williamson Does It Again
Theatre Royal Sydney until December 21
Photos: James Morgan
Reviewed by Ron Lee
Daniel Sparrow Productions, the producers of the much-anticipated play, Rupert, must be expecting that Sydney audiences will embrace David Williamson’s latest work because they’re staging it at the 1,200 seat Theatre Royal.
The last five Williamson plays I reviewed were at the much smaller Parramatta Riverside, The Concourse in Chatswood and the tiny Ensemble Theatre.
This production opens with the Murdoch of today entering and standing down-centre stage to establish himself as the narrator of his own story and breaks the fourth wall to speak directly to the audience. Using a clever theatrical device, Murdoch the narrator is also interactively involved in the story, including conversations with the other characters and also with his younger, more athletic self.
So where do you begin with a character like Rupert Murdoch?
The most impactful starting point is the moment in which Sir Frank Packer becomes aware of the young upstart who would soon be his greatest rival and immense source of frustration. We are then taken on a journey that involves the making and breaking of political power bases and politicians around the world, arm-wrestling with governments over media control laws, gargantuan battles with unions, employees, competitors and ex-wives, and, or course, the Leveson Inquiry.
This saga of one of history’s most interesting and controversial tycoons could involve more than fifty actors, but most of the talented ten cast members play multiple roles.
Jane Turner, mostly known for her television comedy work, plays Dame Elisabeth (Murdoch’s mother) and Margaret Thatcher who, in this production, is appropriately more a caricature. In that context, Turner truly hits the mark.
Also caricatured are Sir Frank, Kerry and Clyde Packer who are portrayed as crude, swearing buffoons.
Having been in four consecutive Williamson plays, Glenn Hazeldine is now a Williamson veteran. In this one, he portrays James Murdoch, Kerry Packer, David Frost, Gough Whitlam, Bob Hawke and Paul Keating.
Also demonstrating his versatility is Bert LaBronté as Frank Packer, Sir John Kerr, Ronald Reagan and nine other characters.
Scott Sheridan plays Lachlan Murdoch, Clyde Packer and Ted Pickering. Hazeldine, LaBronté and Sheridan all strongly showcase their comedic flair and turn in solid performances.
Danielle Cormack as Anna Murdoch, is a powerful foil to the young Rupert and provides the balance between his business and personal lives.
Award-winning Haiha Le plays Murdoch’s former wife, Wendi Deng, who, in this production, could easily have been transposed with Rose Hancock. It’s pleasing to see that this talented Asian actor was also cast in the role of Rebekah Brooks, the former News International CEO, an Irish-looking woman with flaming red hair.
Well-known American actor, James Cromwell, is the current-day Rupert. Cromwell presents with gravitas and credibility in this challenging role in which he only leaves the stage during the intermission. My only reservations were that on opening night, his accent started out with the familiar Australian/American brogue that Murdoch is known for, but quickly reverted to a purely Californian accent, and I’m sure that director Lee Lewis will tighten up his performance as the season progresses.
As the Young Rupert, Guy Edmonds is sensational. He projects the energy, enthusiasm and commitment of the unstoppable force that has been Rupert Murdoch over more than five decades. On opening night, Edmonds effortlessly and seamlessly coped with a few glitches that would have distracted actors with less talent and awareness. In fact, I can’t imagine any other actor turning in a better performance in that role on the night.
Playwright David Williamson has surpassed “legend” status in Australian theatre. He stopped us from continuing to be pseudo-British and tapped into, and revealed the essences of true Australian characters, culture and psyche, projected our unique humour and has exposed some raw nerves along the way.
His latest play, the fast-paced Rupert, at the Theatre Royal, is definitely worth catching, but book soon because it’s a short season and good seats might be hard to obtain.
You really will enjoy this one.