The Big Time
by David Williamson
Directed by Mark Kilmurry
Photos by Brett Broadman
Ensemble Theatre until March 16
Reviewed by Ron Lee, CSP
He’s done it again, as he has so brilliantly for almost fifty years.
David Williamson’s latest offering is The Big Time, a tale of ruthless ambition, hope, loyalty, deceit, betrayal, Machiavellian cunning and politics in the acting business that juxtaposes some of his more recent writing style with some old school Williamson.
Aged in his forties, screenwriter Rohan Black (played by Jeremy Waters) hasn’t experienced success in fifteen years and is desperate to regain self and industry respect. The flood of knockbacks has caused him to be cynical, frustrated and sarcastic and it comes out in negotiations with people to whom he is trying to pitch his ideas, including influential producer Nate Macklin (Matt Minto).
Rohan’s standard of living is not under threat because he lives with Celia Constanti, a much younger, effortlessly talented, Logie-winning NIDA graduate who has taken the easy path by acting in a soapie, or “continuing drama series” as she insists.
Vicki Fielding (Claudia Barrie) and Celia traveled the NIDA journey together, but Vicki’s outspoken, combative nature makes it necessary for her to work harder. In any play, audience interest is generated through the conflicts and Vicki provides plenty.
Add a theatrical agent to the mix and you have the conduit between the actresses and the producer. As Nelli Browne, Zoe Carides absolutely nails her role and effectively represents every agent that I have met.
The other element in the dynamic is Rohan’s old schoolmate, Rolly Pierce, who is having more than his share of misfortune.
The younger characters are current in their language and attitudes, but the two older blokes exchange dialogue in the style of those in early Williamson plays such as Don’s Party, The Coming of Stork, The Club, Jugglers Three and others. In keeping with the blokey atmosphere, conversations between the two take place in a pub. The two styles make the production additionally interesting.
As Celia Constanti, Aileen Huynh adds yet another dimension. It’s pleasing to see an Asian actor cast in a non-racially-specific role, which first occurred when Gene Roddenberry cast George Takei as Sulu in Star Trek. Kudos to director Mark Kilmurry for recognising that Celia’s backstory is consistent with that of a student who has Asian parents, and that Huynh is excellent in a role that has some complexities. The scene in which Celia auditions for the role of Katherine is powerful.
The entire cast is strong, and the numerous theatrical “in” references hook us even more to the characters. Each of them is identifiable and believable. Why wouldn’t they be? The playwright deals with actors and agents, the director deals with actors and agents, and the actors ARE actors.
Well, at least the plot lines are credible if you believe that conniving, back-stabbing, falseness, hypocrisy, ill-intentions and political cunning are found in the wonderful world of acting.
In keeping with the assertiveness of her character, Claudia Barrie, as Vicki, receives top billing in the production’s programme.
So with The Big Time, Williamson continues his rich vein of theatrical creativity as he heads towards a half century of playwriting that gave Australian actors an Australian voice rather than the pseudo-British one that they had for a hundred years.