Are you jonesing for Monthly gossip? Desperate to hear what Sally, Rob, Morrie and Gideon did next? Well not much we can do about that, but we have for you that redoubtable standby — a David Williamson whinge, the Oz cultural equivalent of methadone.

As reported in last week’s Sydney Morning Herald, playwright Williamson is pissed off that the Sydney Theatre Company, currently under the command of Cate Blanchett and an un-named official, has declined the opportunity to take his new work.

Williamson had declared — had promised, promised! — that he would quit playwrighting after the production of Influence, due to a heart valve problem, a disease presumably created by conscientious Australian dramaturges surreptitiously introducing digitalis into his herbal tea.

Now he’s reneged — stupid Western medicine — and has three more plays on the runaway, the first of which, Let The Sunshine, is now playing at the smaller Ensemble Theatre. Despite having the play actually frikkin on, for all who want to see it, Williamson is pissed off that STC is running one of his old plays, The Removalists, instead of his current johnholmsesque load of significance.

There’s a reason for that of course — The Removalists is a classic, a taut play of sex, violence and game playing between a couple of cops, two inner-city birds of 70s style, and a removalist acting as a near mute witness to the whole catastrophe. Written from an anecdote recounted to Williamson by some Carlton cop in the late 1960s, the play can be done as brute social realism, as sinister expressionist, as black sexual farce, the whole megilla.

But it has to be said that its great power resides in how unWilliamsonesque it is — The Removalists has no easy agenda, no higher message, no programmatic content. Life is one damn thing after another and normal situations can suddenly go haywire at any moment — that’s good drama.

Williamson started from that point and until the late 70s his better plays had more than a bit of that. By the early 1980s, like many playwrights, his work collapsed into programmatic staged debates between points of view, disguised as characters. To the horror of latte-lapping inner-city perverts everywhere, the only effect this had on his sales was to increase them.

A theatre company that’s trying to build a repertoire of drama that’s both of wide appeal and risky is quite within its rights to reject plays that don’t do anything an average episode of Law and Order doesn’t do better.

Quoth Williamson:

I get the feeling Andrew [Upton] and Cate want to move on to new writing and new theatre, capital-T theatre. I think they want to do dazzle theatre and I don’t do that. “The Ensemble, from its roots, has always been a storytelling theatre — and that’s what I do: I tell stories. I’m not theatre with a capital T. I’m no Barrie Kosky.

It has to be said that, advocating for himself, the man has a fool for a client. To be frank, at 60 bucks a seat, if you’re not going to give us a bit of dazzle and capital-T theatre, then don’t bother turning up. Theatre, if it’s going to be anything in an era of 200 channels, The Wire, The Shield, Mad Men, Rome etc, has to do something with its unique dimension, which is unmediated physical presence. That doesn’t have to be six foot transvestites shrieking in Romanian and rubbing fruit into each other — unless you’re from Malthouse, where it’s now in the contracts — but it has to be a bit more than a little t.

There will be plenty of time to discuss this — Williamson will be “in conversation” with Upton at the Sydney Writers Festival, live on-stage talkporn. What will they talk about?

Oh and Williamson’s new play? It’s described as:

… a comedy about two ideologically opposed couples living in Noosa, on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast, who are forced to get on when their children marry and have a child.

“It is a rerun of Romeo and Juliet,” Williamson says.

No David, it’s a clone of Meet the Fockers without Hoffman, Streisand and De Niro and we watched it for free last night. What else ya got? “Cover Versions”, ructions inside a popular monthly magazine perhaps?

Peter Fray

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