by David Williamson
Director Mark Kilmurry
Photos by Prudence Upton
Ensemble Theatre until April 9
Reviewed by Ron Lee, CSP
After fifty years as Australia’s most prolific and celebrated playwright, David Williamson said that Crunch Time will be his final play. To give you some perspective, Williamson created 51 produced stage works, and Shakespeare, about forty.
As a young NIDA student, I was invited to be involved as Assistant Stage Manager in the first Sydney production of Don’s Party, which was the first play that Williamson wrote. His first produced work was The Removalists because Don’s Party was “too bourgeois” for the leftist Melbourne fringe theatre scene. I remember thinking that Don’s Party was far and away the most entertaining and enjoyable play by an Australian, or any other playwright.
As I’ve mentioned before, Williamson gave Australian characters Australian voices rather than the pseudo-British ones to which we were accustomed; they sounded like real Australians, not ABC announcers of the 1950s. The plays were also about Australian issues and sensibilities instead of being local versions of British and American works.
So how is Williamson’s final offering?
All of his plays perceptively delve into the psyche, motivations and family and social dynamics of Australians. In the later works, he deals with deeper concepts that are more obvious. In Odd Man Out, conditions such as paranoia, autism and Asperger’s Syndrome are addressed. Good comedy necessarily includes pathos to a smaller or larger degree, and more emphasis provides greater depth to any work.
Crunch Time, as well as dealing with family dynamics and conflicts, also addresses euthanasia.
Steve (John Wood) is on the verge of retirement after building a successful international manufacturing company, and his successor will be one of his two sons who don’t agree on much. Steve is an engineer by profession, is an old-school autocrat and is stereotypically limited with his communication skills.
Favourite son Jimmy (Matt Minto) has a degree in Marketing, was good at sport and is an excellent, though superficial communicator. Jimmy’s tolerant wife, Susy (Megan Drury), is an empathetic psychologist who is trying to heal the rifts in the family.
Luke (Guy Edmonds), who was a less-skilled sportsman, is an academically accomplished engineer who feels intimidated by his extrovert brother. Wife Lauren (Emma Palmer) is a money-hungry, status climbing, self-obsessed lawyer who has her eyes on the prize.
Steve’s wife Helen dearly wants all family members to reconcile and is sad, exasperated and hopeful. Even though Diane Craig has an impressive list of screen credits, I don’t recall the last time I saw her on stage. Her experience comes through in a faultlessly natural performance.
If fact, all of the actors perform well under the direction of Mark Kilmurry.
Crunch Time is not short on stereotypes, and they work with the familiarity of reacquainting with old friends. Add to the family interactions the elephant in the room that remains to the end, and you have pushes and pulls and twists that make this last Williamson play as compelling as his half-century of others. Whether it was because it provided my first Williamson experience or because I was so young and theatrically impressionable, I still regard Don’s Party as the most entertaining play that I’ve seen.
For a number of reasons, Crunch Time is a must to see, and if it’s David Williamson’s last stage work, there will hopefully be memoirs which will be eagerly awaited by those involved in Australian theatre.