Barry Humphries skipped out quickly after curtains, perhaps avoiding an awkward conversation with the playwright after. In fact, ushers misdirected the usual crowd of Melbourne B-listers and the post-show party fizzled. The stench still wafted from the theatre. This was grim viewing, possums.

Our most celebrated stage scribe got to his feet post-show to be applauded, a polite if halfhearted acknowledgement. He smiled contentedly. David Williamson is nothing but content. Blithely, indolently content.

Half-a-dozen years ago now, Williamson went on a cruise. Nose in the air, uncomfortable over our Howard-era comfortableness, he delivered a withering critique of aspirational Australia:

“I finished the cruise thinking that the ‘elites’ have an absolute right to avow that the things that mean the most to them are the works of art and intellect that our greatest creative minds and thinkers have produced, that intelligence and intellectual curiosity are not some kind of abhorrent anti-Australian behaviour, and that thinking seriously about the long-term future of our country and our planet is not some kind of cultural betrayal.”

Just who was he standing up for? Williamson hasn’t demonstrated intelligence or intellectual curiosity for years. And what better description of the languid liberal than “aspirational”? Williamson’s writing is as fat, lazy and stupid as any of those cruise-goers, a man who seeks nothing more challenging or substantial than recognition and legacy.

Don’s Party, for its bawdy faults, captured a time, a place, a mood. The sequel — which nobody really wanted, but Williamson premiered at the Playhouse last night anyway — perhaps achieves the same level of success: it’s certainly as vapid as the current domestic political landscape; as bereft of ideas as Don’s beloved Labor cause.

A cruise of Titanic disaster.

Grumpy old Don, after literary misadventure, is restless; hairless (and looks more like Garry McDonald). Kath remains by his side, for reasons that aren’t apparent. Cooley has mellowed into a sickly arch-conservative; Mal a lonely lawyer now divorced from Jenny, who rose through the Labor ranks with a burning grudge . They reunite for the 2010 federal election and moan about the listless campaign and mourn for Whitlam and Keating and the long-lost ideas men of politics.

From his comfortable sea-change retreat in Noosa, Williamson not-so-quietly seethes. He writes in the show program:

“These days, what have we got? What are the great questions being asked by our political leadership? — Will we build a new detention centre on Nauru or East Timor? Who can do the least and say the least about the great challenge of our day, climate change? Whether or not we should upset the mining companies by taxing their excessive profits? Surely, it cannot merely be the souring perception of someone in late middle-age that Australia seems less optimistic, less idealistic, less likely to take a stand on principle than it was …”

And that’s exactly what we get: wistfully bitter perception. Labor is controlled by machine men, driven by polls not policy; the fear-mongering Liberals are tied to slogans not solutions; nobody treats asylum seekers fairly; no one is committed to acting on climate change.

You’ve heard it all before. And you’ve heard it said much better. With greater insight. With sharper wit. From writers not battling an aging irrelevance.

The election wasn’t that long ago. But watching Williamson’s take, listening to Kerry O’Brien, firmly ensconced in retirement, call the card, with commentary from Williamson’s boomer brood this tired and predictable, it feels almost as nostalgic as the original film.

Don Parties On amounts to a series of disjointed and desultory sketches, poorly plotted, embarrassingly overacted, neither witty nor wise. It’s badly produced theatre; the Melbourne Theatre Company should be condemned for allowing “mainstream” theatregoers — and many will be attracted to Williamson and nothing else — to believe the artform isn’t any better than this.

But the real tragedy here is Williamson. The sheer laziness of Don Parties On embarrasses. Elites should exorcise him at once — Williamson now fails his own standards.

*For more thoughts on Don Parties On, see the full review on Crikey‘s theatre blog Curtain Call

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey