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Jan 14, 2011

Who's aspirational now? Williamson's Party as vapid as the times

David Williamson got to his feet at the premiere of Don Parties On to be applauded, a polite if halfhearted acknowledgement. He smiled contentedly. Williamson is nothing but content. Blithely, indolently content, writes Jason Whittaker.



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


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66 thoughts on “Who’s aspirational now? Williamson’s Party as vapid as the times

  1. kumbali

    this is just a nasty rant and doesn’t contribute to debate.

  2. Bogdanovist

    What a nonsense ‘review’. When you (almost) open by saying:

    “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.”

    then it’s pretty clear we can stop reading at that point, because the ‘reviewer’ clearly isn’t going to offer any interesting insight into the play.

    Terrible review and banal prose.

  3. Nathan

    Fantastic review. When I first heard about this show I thought it was a joke. When I received pamplets in the mail from STC I couldn’t stop laughing. This is exactly what I wanted to read about it.
    Some of Williamsons’ older plays are great, and like you said, a snapshot of a specific time, and I think they hold some relevance. But Williamson has a weird sort of arrogance over the contemporary theatre scene that feels as if everyone is just too polite to tell him he’s spilled something awful down his shirt and not noticed.
    Maybe the two comments above me are from Williamson fans. Who knows. But I notice they haven’t said that the play is any good.

  4. Benny Rogers

    This review is inhumane, nasty and personal. Readers deserve more. The reason the play hasn’t been discussed in the first two comments is that the absolute bile in the review takes over completely. This is less about Williamson and his play and more about the reviewer, his personal feelings and need for attention. And yes, the reviewer is only human too…but he needs to assess the impact of his own writing. An attack this vicious makes my stomach turn. People are involved. It’s unnecessary.
    Crikey can do better.

  5. Takius

    I am not a huge Williamson fan, having only seen the original Don’s Party, but as someone who was considering seeing this play I have to say that I was disapointed that this review seems to be more a vitriolic vendetta against Williamson than an actual review.

    I am unsure what Jason Whittaker has against Williamson, but I’d prefer if he would focus on the actual play rather than the playwright.

  6. john2066

    Nathan, have you actually seen it?

  7. sean

    The irony of this surprisingly contentless and mediocre offering is that its guilty of the same kind of toneless angst that the author accusses Williamson of. I haven’t seen the play but this rant isn’t about the play, its more an adhominen attack on Williamson, presumably because his views on modern australia dont accord with Jason’s.

    The references to ‘ageing irrelevance’, the general nastiness and the lack of any insight is hopefully not an indication of where the editorial direction of Crikey is going in the future.. I’d advise Jason, now that he’s covered his shirt with dribble, to get back to his administrative work.

  8. Bogdanovist

    I haven’t seen the play, and don’t have a great view on Williamson one way or the other (the shows of his I have seen are all older ones which I found mildy entertaining, though not particularly profound). This review just tells me the reviewer hates the playwright, but doesn’t do so in an interesting way or say anything interesting about much at all.

  9. kumbali

    I will add that I have only recently returned to reading articles on Crikey, having turned away because of increasing lack of substance and too many vitriolic rants that are not backed up by facts. This article is the last I will be reading which is really sad as Crikey was not always like this.

  10. Hannie W

    The first two respondents may well be right, but I take it they weren’t there last night. They might think otherwise if they had been. The whole thing is, well, it’s amazing. The laziness the reviewer describes – in staging, in acting, in writing – is stupefying. I didn’t pay for my ticket, so I feel bad being negative, but I love theatre and I hate seeing it trashed. Particularly by its own practitioners.

  11. mcclloyd1

    There is no doubt Williamson’s oerve has descended to the level of mediocre sitcom but rather than launch a personal attack on the playwright, ask why the MTC and STC continue to stage works that wouldn’t get a look in with another name on the title page. The answer being Williamson is gold for theatre companies always challenged to make ends meet. If the crowds keep coming, they’ll keep putting them on.

  12. Benny Rogers

    I wasn’t there either Hannie W, so I hear what you’re saying. I believe that any show that seems to fairly obviously fall well below standards should be reviewed accordingly (within a stated context). But alarm bells ring as soon as a reviewer starts to make personal remarks about a person. Is Williamson actually ‘blithely, indolently content’? Who really knows…or cares? I want to read about our plays and culture. I don’t want to see journalists blatantly take pot-shots at personalities. Where are the benchmarks and ideals for reviewers and publishers?

  13. JDC

    What: DON PARTIES ON by David Williamson
    Where: The Arts Centre, Playhouse Season dates: 8 January to 12 February, 2011
    Date seen and reviewed: Thursday, 13 January 2011
    Stars: 2.

    While movie sequels are a dime a dozen these days, sequels in the theatre are rare. Very few sequels, however, ever surpass the quality and originality of the original piece. Think the film Die Hard 2, for example. David Williamson’s new play, Don Parties On, is the Die Hard 2 of the theatre world. It tries hard, but dies even harder.

    One of David Williamson’s best plays, Don’s Party, written in 1971, bravely explored the murky underbelly of Australian middle-class suburban society replete with its rampant marital infidelities, homophobia, homosexuality, political conservatism, racism, and just plain good old general bad loutish Aussie drunken behaviour set against the back-drop of the 1969 Federal election. The play was robust and full of fighting, humping and swearing. Flash forward forty years to 2010 where Don Parties On is set against the back-drop of the tied 2010 Australian Federal Election. Another Federal Election means another party at Don and Kath’s. Sounds like fun.

    Many of the original characters from Don’s Party re-appear at Don and Kath’s comfortable Lower Plenty home: Don (Garry McDonald), his wife Kath (Tracy Mann), Mal (Robert Grubb), Cooley (Frankie J. Holden), Helen (Diane Craig), and Jenny (Sue Jones). There are also three new characters: Georgia Flood as Belle who is daughter to Darren Gilshenan’s Richard (Don and Kath’s son), and Nikki Shiels’s Roberta, who is Richard’s flashy, tortured, arty lover.

    The bad news for audiences is that, both the old faces and the new faces in this play are a tired, thoroughly dislikeable, self-absorbed bunch, oblivious to the plight of others. Example: Despite Richard’s off-screen wife, Tracy, being hospitalised after attempting suicide, it takes almost two hours for Belle (who would prefer to watch “Twilight” DVD’s) and Tracy’s Mum in Law, Kath, to head over to the hospital where Tracy is recovering. Belle prefers spending her time watching her “Twilight” DVD’s and extolling the virtues of her Generation Y colleagues.

    While playwright Williamson must in the first instance carry the burden of the blame for his unfunny script, Robyn Nevin’s flaccid, unimaginative direction, is a witting accomplice.

    What is curious about Williamson’s script is that, while the main characters spout on about contemporary Australian issues such as the refugee crisis while watching the ABC’s Election night telecast, Williamson has missed some potentially magical opportunities to weave some of our modern and prescient crises such as the GFC, credit squeeze, mortgage stress, declining superannuation values, increasing property prices, issues with ageing and declining health, the rise and rise of technology (big screen TVs, iPods, iPads, etc), social networking sites, and reality television, into his script.

    It is hard to find any high points of this production. Dale Ferguson’s impressively naturalistic (and completely unnecessary) set, complete with two luxury vehicles parked in the drive-way of Don’s home takes the prize. Many could very happily live on Ferguson’s set!

    Don Parties On breaks no new theatrical ground, and once again reveals Williamson not to be the Moliere of his day, but rather a playwright who is sorely out of touch with contemporary Australian societal and financial issues. If this play would have been written by another playwright, and as a reboot, we may have seen something truly memorable. Instead, what audiences have is the theatrical equivalent of Die Hard 2.

  14. drmichaelrjames

    Williamson should have co-opted Guy Rundle to co-author it!
    Of course GR’s opinion of DW may be as strong as Jason’s?

  15. Sausage Maker

    Wow. The writer of this piece should get together with Barrie Kosky and they can bitch about Williamson all they like.

  16. zimmerman

    I found this play to be full of insight and cutting edge commentary. So good in fact David has been signed up by Microsoft to mass market the writing software package he has been using for the past 20 years ” Microsoft – Playwriting Cliches for Moral Superiors Version 1.1″.

  17. crikeyuser77

    This is a typical example of the vicious, unconstructive and mean-spirited reviewing culture in this country.

    Yet another case of a theatre reviewer making a savage, personal attack on a playwright.

    A considered assessment of the play’s merit would have been far more appropriate than the hysterical rant displayed here.

    How boring… when are we going to get some decent reviewers in this country?

    I’m not a particular fan of Williamson’s work, but I yearn for a time when Australian playwrights will receive professional and constructive public assessment of their work.

  18. Gweneth

    [The bad news for audiences is that, both the old faces and the new faces in this play are a tired, thoroughly dislikeable, self-absorbed bunch, oblivious to the plight of others.]

    Perhaps that is the point. That is what we have become and we don’t like to to be made aware of it. Australians are not the good guys any more fellas.

  19. freecountry

    It’s an old problem: how does an artist fulfil a self-set mission of forcing his audiences to confront the banality to which they have become all too accustomed, without in doing so contributing to that banality, aggravating it?

    David Williamson once said that the playwright’s role in society was to be its sacrificial offering. The above review will probably hurt him but I doubt if it would entirely surprise him.

    After I had read the usual Ayn Rand novels in my youth and gone through the usual sequence of reactions to them, years later I happened upon a short (yes, she could write concisely when she wanted to) non-fiction work called The Romantic Manifesto, explaining her views on the nature of art.

    Her thesis astounded me. Focussing mainly on literature, she divides all art traditions into just two camps, social-realism and romantic-heroic. The first is slice-of-life, telling-it-how-it-is, everybody’s-got-to-learn-sometime, that sort of thing. The second attempts to distil that which is larger than life, where all the characters know exactly what they’re doing and why, and all their dialog represents what we wish we had said in our past conflicts, not what we did say. She basically argued that James Bond had contributed more to society than all the highbrow films of the 1950s put together.

    Using Rand’s classification, almost all Australian films and plays (with a few exceptions, such as the films of Rolf de Heer) fall into the first category. Rubbing our noses in the failed, self-betraying, broken-winged, disillusioned wretches that we are, and teaching us to forgive ourselves with a humble laugh because everyone else is equally wretched.

    I think it’s fair to say that Williamson has made his point. Made it, in fact, long ago, and he wasn’t alone in making it, though perhaps more eloquent than most. Surely it’s time for someone to sing another tune for a change. Something not just about where we are, or what we imagine of our glorious past … something about what we could aim for if we aspire to more than this.

    Or as people are often asking politicians: Where’s the vision? I don’t see how the politicians can answer that one if even the artists cannot.

  20. Bravo Zulu

    I haven’t seen this play yet, although I have been considering it, so I went in search of some reviews. Boy, this one has generated some discussion, which is a good thing, but then again hurling insults usually has that effect.
    Something about this piece of writing left me feeling uncomfortable and like some others have commented on, it felt too personal, almost spiteful. I get that Jason thinks the play is a load of crap, but ironically, the review itself seems to be tainted by the same air of elitism that he appears to be so riled by?

  21. Jason Whittaker

    I should point out – and I do appreciate the feedback, good and really bad – that this was much less a review of the production and much more a springboard to discuss Williamson’s place on the cultural stage and some hypocrisy I saw in his comments.

    I’ve made some more notes on the production itself over at our theatre blog, Curtain Call, here: http://blogs.crikey.com.au/curtaincall/2011/01/14/review-don-parties-on-playhouse-melbourne/

    I agree that reviews should play the ball and not the man. But it’s an unacceptable piece of work, in my humble opinion. And I think that goes to a blatantly commercial decision by the MTC to stage it, and a lazy playwright that doesn’t offer the intellectual prosecution he demands of others.

  22. Elan

    In your ‘humble opinion’ Jase? Hells testicles!! It’s the foil hat, and duck for cover when you express an arrogant opinion methinks!!

    I’m not interested in DP 1 or DP 2. I’m not interested in Wills and what he says…

    I don’t reckon this is so much a review as a political comment.

    Be a good boy. You are Dep Ed. Behave yourself.

  23. claudedwalker

    I don’t think its fair to attack this review – it does in fact deal with the play itself, albeit a little later in the article. Furthermore, it attempts to delve into why the reviewer was disappointed, and explores why the playwright might be dropping his game.

    There is, after all, a certain arrogance, laziness and disdain for audience in writing a sequel – its only the last sequel that loses money, right?

    Furthermore, it’s perfectly legitimate for a reviewer to attack a playwright as long as he has logical argument and evidence, to do so. Just because Williamson is established and lauded, does not mean he can expect good reviews for anything he does. The commenters who attack the reviewer need to chill out a little bit. You don’t need to agree, but I personally think this review is fair enough.

  24. Sam G

    Thanks Jason – saved me from going and being disappointed.

    Williamson has been irrelevant to his cause for a while now.

  25. christian wagstaff

    Don Parties On cannot be defended. I think Whittaker’s commentary is bang on! I saw the play. Its an abomination. I could be wrong, but I even think the actors hated being on stage. I felt sorry for them. Some good actors who looked like they were walking through the set of Neighbors reading stiff, self-conscious, unnatural and somewhat offensively bad dialogue off cue cards with the occasional sit-com one liner – the audience giggling politely as if forced to react to your uncle’s bad jokes. what a waste of a fabulously bad idea.

  26. upshot

    Hi Jason,

    First a disclaimer – I know David very well. I have known him most of his
    Working life and have never responded to something written about him or his
    work before.

    I thought long and hard about commenting on your piece, not wanting to at all contribute to what is really going on here – I.e. Jason Whittaker raising his profile at the expense of someone he doesn’t know.

    You see Jason – you are the culture that you are attacking, chattering and vacuous, agitated but without focus.

    The reality is that no one would be reading anything you wrote unless it was attached to a name they were interested in. Thankfully Crikey readers are smart, they won’t put up with your Andrew Bolt like MO for long.

    What’s disappointing about this is that it is so blitheringly emotional
    that any semblance of genuine argument is lost. What’s more disappointing
    is that the net allows you to post, tweet and spread this more widely that
    ever before – and it will hang around for longer.

    Yes Jason your name will live forever – finally the recognition that you deserve (Williamson and his generation curtailed your brilliance…. your angry about that…clearly) Crikey has created their own internet troll.

    You set up with assumptions, generalisations and observations so tainted
    by angst that they are perplexing. You know what Barry Humphrey’s was
    thinking, why he left after the show? Williamson was “Blithely, indolently
    content”. Even your description of the crowd as ‘b-listers’ is a window
    into the world in which you live.

    You didn’t see the same play I saw. At times the exposition was clunky (it
    needed to stand alone as a play, but at its heart ‘Don Parties’ on’ was an eloquent apology from one generation to another. It was a statement about the inadequacy of the human condition to deliver on what we now know we need more than anything, behaviour change on a grand scale. A backhanded plea for the generations coming after the boomers to not make the same mistake and to act now.

    You miss that Williamson is also speaking to his own generation. One march
    in an anti Vietnam rally does not excuse an empty house with three air con
    units and four cars. It was also about the continuing inequity faced by
    women who have to pander to the male ego.

    I was in an audience that was constantly laughing, became emotional during
    Jenny’s revelation and who embraced the play in full. I loved it.

    Williamson has contributed to the Australian theatre industry and helped to justify the expenditure that has given us the infrastructure that will be left for the next generation of theatrical writers. He’s left a legacy that talked about a certain Australia over generations.

    Jason – what have you done? What will you be? You are neither an artist nor a commentator the question is – do you have what it takes to be either? Is it easier living in a constructed world that lets you off the hook emotionally by giving you something to blame. Williamson’s legacy is not understood by you – and is in fact something to be torn down and slandered as fuel for your shallow attempts at creating your own.

    “Jason Whittakers 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.”

    It fits much better on you Jason.

  27. christian wagstaff

    Nice emotional posting UPSHOT.

  28. upshot

    Thanks very much Christian its so fantastic to have your affirmation! You see – someone has to provide some balance here – its amazing how many times crikey writers will comment on each others articles as they have here, retweet them and generally flood the internet with rubbish.

  29. christian wagstaff

    oh? i mustn’t have had my tongue planted firmly enough into my cheek. so you have mistook my comment as a compliment. my point is that your posting is far more emotive than Wittaker’s. so you have only done what you have criticised him for doing yourself. i am all for emotive postings. at least he credits his thoughts. puts his name to it. you have hidden behind ‘UPSHOT’. so the very thing that you are so disappointed by, that of blithering emotions, you have simply done yourself. you post a tirade of emotions on a forum that will linger. thats the net mate. accept it. as you seem to have done yet at the same time see it as a fault. welcome.

  30. upshot

    Excellent points very well made christian! Only one thing. Jason can take the comments down I can’t. He is the media. I’m not.

  31. upshot

    Christian I’d like to make a couple of extra points because I think this issue is very important. 

    The ‘net’ is not homogenous and democratic. Businesses, including media outlets spend big money and use internal techniques to optimize their websites ensuring they show up first on searches. This then perpetuates their popularity etc etc

    It doesn’t actually matter that Jason hated williamsons play, what mattered is that he is aware and respectful of the generations of adherence to journalistic standards that have gone before him. 

    So yes. I am emotional about this issue. Having no need to use an online forum to maximize my profile like you do I can remain anonymous justified that my comments are from a private Individual to a media machine. 

    Whether left leaning or right unless we question media agencies about their content they in effect become redundant. 

    It becomes a free for all and Jason will be without a job. 

    Perhaps read this code of ethics from the Australian journalists association before re reading jasons work on this site. 


    I’d also suggest you look at crikey’s own self description. It sees its self as the fourth estate, a free thinking check and balance on mainstream media. The revealer of truth. 

    I support this concept strongly but don’t believe it possible without balance. 

    You can see other contributors reactions here – (those who are not other crikey team members) – they have a feeling of unease. Rightly so. 

    Jason is a deputy editor at crikey. I for one don’t want this flame to go out. 

    It surely will unless they engender respect from readers. 

    My suggestion would be that the senior editor revise Jason’s work within the context of the two important links above. 

  32. David Williamson

    Jason, this is David Williamson that writer of fat lazy and stupid work you wrote about. Perhaps we need an Obama figure to urge moderation in arts discourse as your rhetoric does make it difficult to not be taken aback by the sheer rage you exhibited. Part of this can I suggest might be a misreading of the play. Don and Mal’s whinges and rhetoric about the political situation are being satirised, not endorsed. The audience is certainly reading it this way, laughing heartily at these two aging bullshit artists who have, as you say, no real ideas to tackle the really pressing problems we are all facing. I thought that that was pretty clear at the end when they are drunkenly reminisce about the glorious sixties, the high points of their lives. in fact the point of the play was not the fatuous political debate, it was meant to be a look at long term friendships, marriages and family, and the tone was, as is more common at my age than yours, ultimately warm and forgiving. However imperfect these relationships matter, family matters and when people are approaching the end of their life and looking back and trying to make sense of it, they matter even more. As one of your correspondents observes, more astutely than most reviewers, the play is also a heartfelt apology from my generation to yours about the way our relentless consumption mania has left the world with a hugely difficult problem for the future. Just for the record I’m not blithely and indolently content. I was in my usual state of high anxiety and embarrassed to be called on by the cast. I worked hard on the play, doing fourteen or so drafts as usual, and I had a quite long and cordial conversation with Barry Humpries in the foyer after the show and he didn’t seem to be terminally embarrassed. If you could be bothered re seeing the play and you could accept that I’m satirising Don and Mal’s bullshit not endorsing it, then maybe you could see that it’s observations about long term relationships that are at it’s core and understand a little better why non first night audiences are enjoying the show so much. Very best David Williamson.

  33. christian wagstaff

    UPshot … I dont use this forum to maximize my profile. strange that you assume that. I simply apply my name to my thoughts. As David does above. I guess my final thoughts are that i agree the ‘net’ is not homogeneous, but it is democratic. far more than the printed media. what i love about it is it gives the user complete freedom to access such varied opinion which has its benefits and dangers. but perhaps less dangerous than a printed newspapers single minded ideals. all the rules have been broken. Brilliant that David has posted himself (hopefully its actually him). Better get off now as my banter is off subject.

  34. TheatreLobby

    I love that the first comment on this review proclaims it ‘does not contribute to debate’.

    Fortuitous little prediction, wasn’t it?

    Somebody give Jason Whittaker a medal for going beyond a drab, thematic / semiotic analysis of the show and critiquing the commercial structures which permitted it to happen in the first place.

    Oh yes, a debate has been ignited.

    And it is one about how theatre happens in this country, not about whether a character has some kind of metaphorical / satirical / whatthefuckical significance.

    This is the best kind of criticism: one where the critic recognises that no, their job is not just to sit back and tell others what they ‘saw’ and ‘felt’, but to recognise how those things operate in a hierarchy; an ecology of performance-making and more broadly economics, politics and demography.

    From those perspectives, a critique such as Whittaker’s is timely and essential: ‘Don Parties On’ is a pandering pile of profitable pulp which does nothing to elucidate, or grow, theatre beyond what Williamson has always relied on it to be. His very own cash cow.

    I don’t care if an audience of white, educated, upper-middle-class people laughed at a joke because they’d heard it twenty times before over the last thirty years. I don’t care if it took fourteen drafts to craft that joke in precisely the same way it was crafted thirty years earlier.

    What I am interested in is: how did we get here? How did we get to a place where this work is championed by one of our nation’s biggest theatre companies? How did it come to represent the peak, the pinnacle of Australian theatre making?

    And more importantly, how the hell can we move on?

    Thankfully critics like Jason Whittaker are putting that conversation back on the agenda.

    The more this kind of analysis takes place, the more people will realise this isn’t about ‘just another David Williamson play’.

    It’s about an ultra-cautious cult of commercial viability which is suffocating true diversity in the sector, and encouraging audiences to think along the same lines. Talk down to the masses and they’ll think that’s all you’ve got to say.

    Thank you for your bravery, Jason. For speaking up.

    I can only hope suggests the kind of soul-searching the sector requires.

  35. David Williamson

    I’d be surprised if “Theatre Lobby” isn’t white educated and middle class themselves given the articulate contribution. I understand the rage. I felt it myself when as a beginning playwright almost all the plays done by Australian theatres were British and sometimes American. We felt we were being denied our own voice. The rage was a motivating factor as it will obviously be for Theatre Lobby to change the way theatre operates in this country. If this country is going to have a diet of adventurous theatre then much more government or private support is needed. The large theatre companies, with a tiny percentage of their income from government and sponsorship are virtually forced to operate as commercial theatres. I’m not sure I can be blamed for the fact that the large companies need to program work that attracts audiences, and I’m not sure it’s fair to stigmatise the sorts of audiences who go to my work as somehow being lesser order of human beings because of their unfortunate taste for my work. You may think my work is a pandering pile of profitable pulp (Good middle class alliteration) but they obviously don’t, and should we consider them sub human because of that. As Wayne Harrison observed years ago the profitability of my work has enabled state theatre companies to program more adventurous new Australian work over the years. Indeed in this MTC season there are seven new Australian plays, four of them by young and adventurous authors. I can’t quite see that that constitutes a lock out of new work and if the profitability of my work helps get them on I’m delighted. I spent thirteen years as President of the writer’s guild and years on the Theatre Board of the Australia council campaigning strongly for a larger amount of Australian work. I tried for years to get a quota of Australian work in place but had little luck. I haven’t tried to manipulate Australian theatre for my pecuniary benefit. I actually love working on plays and getting them in front of an audience and experiencing the connection they achieve, even given the fact that my audience is obviously seriously deficient in taste. Jasons derogatory mention of Noosa and your resentment that I make money out of what I do is fairly typical. In fact my lifestyle and income is about on a par with a successful General Practitioner and I’m probably the only playwright doing that well which is possibly more an indictment on Arts funding in Australia and public indifference than on me. Rather than write viciously about the quality of my work, why not attack what causes the “ultra cautious cult of commercial viability” which include a low Government priority on Australian creativity and a general public indifference about the importance of that creativity in the face of the triumph of global market philosophy, which treats creativity as just another commodity irrespective of where it was created. And it would be more courageous to let me know who you are rather than hiding behind the psuedonym. Yours David Williamson

  36. boomer

    Not interested in the cat fight between wagstaff and upshot or the defense by the latter of Williamson’s play. Though surprised that upshot would own to being a friend, as most friends apparently appear in Williamson’s work and his characters are generally thoroughly unlikable.

    However, do think that the response by the playwright says more about the play than the reviews. Having to explain the meaning surely indicates a problem with the play. I was there and sitting in the same row as Williamson and he seemed very content with the sometimes hysterical laughter. Our group, all Williamson’s age, were by interval already disappointed by the self-indulgent and lazy script. I’m glad Williamson explained that the whinging by Don and Mal was satire because it all sounded like commentary to me and this has been better performed at morning tea in most work places in Australia.

    If Let the Sunshine failed to shine this sequel just flops. Don’s Party had a raw energy that excited in the 70’s but I now feel Williamson’s permanent retirement seems prudent. Perhaps if the playwright lived in a less hackneyed place than Noosa he might rediscover satire and create plays to the benefit of all.

    In the meantime, as a patron of the MTC, I will be lobbying for more diverse and adventurous theatre.

  37. Sam G

    I’ve got to say.. after David Williamson’s reply I’m actually interested in seeing the play now. Bravo David for having the spirit to respond.

    I don’t agree with that the arts community would be saved by further government assistance (perhaps it could do with some additional support.. but it alone won’t SAVE arts) – and Williamson should be applauded if he can pull some coin in theatre.

    No, I’m most pleased that there is at least a discussion going on and an honest sounding account of someone’s experience. I still find it strange that when someone criticises a highly anticipated piece of Australian art they are usually accused of treachery by Australia’s incestuous self-serving cultural community.

    Not everyone, even the great David Williamson, can be perfect all the time.

  38. David Williamson

    Yes I remember you Boomer -and your friends. You were doing your best to look disdainful and bored while the others around you laughed. Obviously the sensibilities of the laughers are at fault and not yours. What is it? Superior intelligence? Superior knowledge of theatre? Or maybe just a lack of a sense of humor, as anyone who couldn’t pick Mal’s climate theory catastrophising or Don’s incessant return to the golden days of the sixties as satire has a problem. I wondered why you came back after interval. or why you subjected yourself to another Williamson after your obvious disappointment at Let the Sunshine. Not everyone likes my work, that’s a given which I have always accepted, but I fail to see why the ones that do should be denigrated by referring to their laughter as hysterical. At the end of last night’s performance a patron yelled “How could the critics have got it so wrong,” and the auditorium applauded. And the reviews have been by no means all bad. Check todays Variety which goes internationally. Or the Herald Sun. As I pointed out in an earlier post you have plenty of opportunity to see more diverse and adventurous theatre and you don’t have to wait for next season. There are four new plays by young Australian writers, made possible to some degree by fact that there are well attended plays in the season such as mine. Your disdain won’t make me stop writing, but there’s a simple solution. Stay away from my plays and you’ll be a happier person. And maybe post as yourself, not hide behind a psuedenom. David W

  39. David Williamson

    Sam, I’m certainly not perfect all the time. I could, but I won’t name at least three of my plays that have been absolute stinkers. And I’d be delighted if you went along to judge this one for yourself. I think it’s one of my better efforts. There’s a tolerance and acceptance of human imperfection that was totally absent in Don’s Party in which I took a decidely superior attitude to all it’s characters. ” Pinned them down like insects” as one critic said at the time. It was a cruel play and a young person’s play. We age, we need to say different things, and I’m proud of what I’ve said in this play. And of course there shouldn’t be any sense that people can’t say what they think. They’ve been saying that about me for forty years now. The first review of my play “The Removalists” now regarded as an Australian classic, was headlined “Blood for Blood’s sake.” I think any disquiet in this set of exchanges has been about the sometimes vicious tone of the comment rather than its content. Very best and let me know what you think, David W

  40. Stiofan

    As a white, middle-class theatregoer, can I just say that, every year, my heart sinks when I receive the prospectuses for the upcoming seasons. Guilt-tripping agitprop about Iraq/Afghanistan/refugees/[insert the cause de jour] and bleak soap operas just don’t appeal to me, whether they’re written by Australians or furrners.

    It was with some pleasure, therefore, that I received the booklet for the STC’s 2011 season. Here was an interesting variety of plays that looked both enjoyable and intellectually satisfying. However, I ended up throwing away the booklet 🙁 The booking procedure was complicated to the point where it was as incomprehensible as the apparent (and persistent) inability of Australia’s greatest living playwright to spell “pseudonym”. 😉

  41. christian wagstaff

    At least Boomer came back for the second act. I left at interval. But I am staying here for this one!

  42. upshot

    Boomer – sounds like you have been too busy indulging negatively in Williamson plays to think the a free press is worth discussing. Christian understands the issues clearly and I have no problem with his post at all. If the watch dog isn’t really a watch dog – who’s he working for? Here we have a media organisation claiming to be working to overturn ‘the man’ – unless they are willing to have integrity around what they publish… they are the man.

    The net makes it more important to ensure ‘credible sources’ are credible. We still have people commenting here with an interest (I mean financial)

    Jason still has an opportunity to revise the piece and call it. ‘Williamson’s generation made house prices go up and I am really cross!”

  43. David Williamson

    Stiofan yes my apologies. I’ve always had trouble with pseudonym and raced off the message before I used spellcheck. I’m new to blogging. Lesson learnt. And yes, it’s a kind of test to correctly fill in a subscription form. I think it’s meant to identify patrons who can tolerate boredom. Best David W

  44. David Williamson

    Upshot, good to see intelligent debate about important issues. And I have to confess I don’t even belong to that grasping boomer lot. I’m so ancient that I was born three years too early. But I’m sure I did my bit to inflate property values given my vast ill gotten wealth cunningly gained by teasing laughter out of hysterics with thirty year old jokes. Sorry you left at interval Christian. You missed seeing the beautiful and talented Nikki Shiels, well worth the price of a ticket. I’m sure you’ll get to see her in a more serious, insightful and cutting edge piece of theatre soon. Best DW

  45. laura ingalls

    I want more criticism of Crikey!

  46. christian wagstaff

    you got me in one David. i do love a bit more edge. amazing how Heiner Goebbels’ Stifters Dinge sends shivers up my spine and makes me cry and its just a bunch of automatons with dripping water, projections and liquid nitrogen. no stilted actors. i would have seen it three times. guess i better bow out now that you have blown my cover. I will say though, I am tickled pink you are taking part in this forum and somewhat honored that you joined in. love it.

  47. TheatreLobby

    David, good on you for responding. I think it’s great that you’re a part of the discussion and don’t consider yourself extraneous from it.

    I have a few little qualms about your response to my post.

    I was very interested in your use of the word ‘adventurous’ to describe the type of theatre I was apparently advocating. Because I never used the word ‘adventurous’. The word I used was ‘diverse’.

    You seem to think that I was referring to some kind of stylistically avant-garde, experimental, boundary-pushing extravaganza of impenetrable postmodern art. Although yes, style partly constitutes diversity, there are many other things I would like to see main stages programming first.

    A diverse range of female playwrights, for example?

    How about a diversity of ethnicities? And socio-economic backgrounds?

    A diverse range of themes and characters which maybe reflect these things, too?

    Which reflect ‘Australia’?

    It’s almost as if you’ve conceded a point there. By stating that what I’m advocating is ‘adventurous’, you’re somehow suggesting what you do is typical and safe. Mainstream.

    What I am alternatively suggesting is that there are plenty of other playwrights, and plays, which could appeal to people the way your plays do. They too could be ‘mainstream’. But they aren’t being given the opportunity. It’s a problem that more government funding isn’t going to fix – because the plays and the actors are already there. They’re just waiting to be given a chance (you can highlight the new MTC season as an example, but none of those plays are being performed in a large theatre and two aren’t even part of the main season).

    This is not your fault, David. Indeed, the inclusion of your plays as part of a program should not preclude main stages from programming other playwrights. Nor should it preclude people from enjoying them, as many do (this doesn’t make them immune from criticism, however – ‘Don Parties On’ has been almost unanimously critically panned) and I would never consider them ‘sub-human’ for doing so, as you asserted. At the end of the day, they are going to the theatre – you are putting them there – and this is a good thing.

    But this insanely risk-adverse hostility to anything that doesn’t fit the notion of ‘mainstream’ your plays perpetuate and subscribe to – pardon the pun – is a process, an inequality, you take part in and profit from.

    Sitting in stark incongruity to your efforts at AusCo and at the Writers’ Guild, you are complicit in your own positioning above (most of) the rest of the theatre-making world. Hence my cash-cow comment, and not at all diminished by your surprising comment about only earning as much as a successful GP. It would seem you are a little out of touch with today’s artists!

    Stylistically, you don’t wish to change your writing. Neither do the big companies wish you to.

    So we sit in a state of crippling stasis. Waiting for the next David Williamson. Which is, inevitably, like the last.

    Because you as a playwright, and the companies, won’t take a chance on anything else.

    Hence my call in my last post: ‘how do we move on?’

    Please understand: I’m not anti-David Williamson, nor anti any David Williamson play for any other reason than I think it is not a successful piece of art.

    What I am against, however, is the privileged position of the David Williamson mainstream – an audience who, apparently, can only be spoken to by David Williamson himself.

    My call is to open up the main stages to ‘diversity’, not necessarily ‘adventurousness’.

    I would love to see you – in whatever capacity – be a part of that, David.

  48. David Williamson

    Theatre Lobby,thank you for your courteous and reasoned reply. I’m sure your lobby is all the more effective for having you in it. Firstly the play has not been almost unamimously panned. The Herald Sun was very positive, and Variety, our only international critical journal was terrific. And the Australian was much more nuanced than to simply call it a bad crit. Three radio crits have been very positive. The Age hasn’t given me a good crit for over twenty years, so I’m not too worried. Who decides what’s a work of art. You? The Age critic? The Variety critic? Or the audiences who respond to a work? I do think Don Parties On is a work of art and will be recognised as such as the years go on. I think it’s perceptive, well written, forgiving and humane and I’ll continue to refuse to be told I have to accept your opinion of its worth or the opinion of any other individual. I have not positioned myself above other playwrights. I simply do what I love. Write plays that I would like to see and that I hope others will. Theatre companies choose to do them because I have had a history of attracting very good audiences over forty years which most cultures would probably celebrate. I’m not sure what you’re asking me to do or what I’m complicit in. Do you want me to write the sort of plays you would like to see? I probably couldn’t and it would be foolish of me to try. I write what I know which is Anglo Celtic middle class culture and surely, given that it’s the majority culture, it has the right of representation. I love seeing an audience enjoying itself and relating to what’s on stage and it’s what I do it for. Do you want me to step down to force theatre companies to find other playwrights? Your most salient point is that theatre companies have the choice of programming anything they like on the main stages. There are ten main stage productions a year. If I’m lucky one of them is mine. Shouldn’t you be asking the theatre companies to program more playwrights from more diverse backgrounds instead of making me the whipping boy? The truth is they do overseas hits rather than take risks and it’s understandable given the pitiful support they get from Government and sponsors. But they still can choose to do whatever they like. I have great admiration for other playwrights. I am delighted that Lally Katz is having three productions of her plays this year. She is very talented. If she fills the smaller venues she will soon gravitate to the larger theatres. And there was nothing stopping the companies taking the risk and putting her into the large venues first up. Being realistic the theatre companies are on a tightrope. On year of adventurous but disastrous programming financially and they’re out of business. in Germany a much higher proportion of funding comes from government and the programming is diverse in the extreme, but the german taxpayer is massively subsiding the rather small audiences who do go. The commercial imperative, to program plays that people want to come to is understandable, not some majority culture plot. And it keeps theatre companies such as many in Germany, drifting off into extreme self indugence. Of course theatre companies can program what they want and by all means pressure them to be more diverse which I’m sure you’re doing. But it would be foolish not to concede the financial pressures they are operating under. And I fully realise that doing as well as a successful GP is doing very well compared to most of my fellow playwrights. My point was isn’t it ironic and saying something about the priority given to the arts, that there is probably only one playwright but thousands and thousands of GP’s on the same level of affluence. Best DW

  49. freecountry

    TheatreLobby, that wasn’t a comment on the play. That was just a diatribe against the tall poppy. It’s not hard to ascertain, online or in the papers, that there are tickets available to plays that are not written by David Williamson.

    Mr Williamson, for some years you’ve been at the forefront of showing us where we are. And our often unanswered question in the politics of Don’s beloved party: what happened to all those ideals? But there is another question, older than that one, and coming back to the fore in recent years: where is the vision for where we are going?

    I suggest that such a question is, first of all, dangerous, because every politician thinks his or her petty little territorial marking on the world is “a vision”, and the common hunger for vision gives a mandate to some of the more reckless ones.

    But I think also the question is directed at the wrong people. Politicians are more often agents than originators of great ideas, which originate from all quarters in a vigorous society. But that vigorous society requires inspiration.

    I think it was you who once said the writer was the sacrificial offering of society, is that right? I don’t recall where. I don’t think you were just talking about harsh critics; it was a bigger point about the solitude of the work. The long periods of being on the outside looking in. The droughts when one begins to wonder if the spring is blocked or if it only ever was a temporary thing. And then the sensation of water flowing once more … which, seemingly alone of all things, is well nigh impossible for the writer to convey to his audience (except perhaps William Goldman in “The Color of Light”).

    But tongue in cheek or not, we know an artist serves more purposes than that of human sacrifice. They are not often enumerated. Some of them are: to expand our awareness of the world; to remind us as individuals that we are not alone; to assert that life goes on (which is why an allegro movement follows the adagio in a concerto, or why Kirk Douglas gets to see his newborn child at the end of Spartacus); to provide the symbols that bind us into a culture; to provide people with something to desire other than status, once they have all the food and shelter they need; to make us laugh; to show us where we are; and to inspire in us the desire to do better.

    This last was, to me, most convincingly expressed in the short-lived Art Deco movement (which Robert Hughes, interestingly, considered to be a period of useless art). In an earlier age, the Beowulf saga was part of a tradition that sought to instruct ordinary men in how to be fine men and even great men. These days we prefer to wallow in our foibles, in a time when “inspirational” means vapid Hollywood triumph-over-adversity tearjerkers and feelgood family movies. The depiction of role models is left to popular works like Crocodile Dundee and to professional sport with all its unrealistic expectations of inhuman perfection.

    I mention this because of the political theme in Don’s Party, the broader theme of lives that didn’t turn out as planned, and the lead-in this gives to the common question aimed at politicians, “Where’s the vision?” I do not expect artists to come up with political blueprints like a Labor movement or a federation. But if artists do not originate the spark–the idea not only that we became less than we hoped, but that we could yet be more–then who else will? Certainly not a bunch of drunk might-have-beens, looking back on their soiled ideals, and learning to laugh about it because everyone’s in the same boat, which is a pretty good description of those who would claim to be today’s visionary leaders.

  50. David Williamson

    Free Country, very thoughtful post. Yes, Don and his friends are struggling to find a vision for the future in “Don Parties On”. Don’s only solution at the end of the play is to handball on the problems to his granddaughters generation. Don and Mal know there’s a big new elephant in the room since the days of Don’s Party. Resource depletion and climate change, and they know it’s a really difficult one to solve because the human predelicition to consume more than they need is hugely strong. Their son Richard knows through his work in advertising that excessive consumption is driven by the need for status, not by any real or logical necessity, but again Richard has no answers. So despite the fact that Don and his generation have been the most profligate of all generations in terms of consumption there is little more than guilt and acknowledgement of the legacy they have left. They have no solutions. They have at least worked out that relationships rather than conspicuous consumption are the real payoffs in life but have no idea how to spread the message. So yes, along with many of my generation we can only hope that our grandchildren behave more responsibly and that they will come up with the vision that we haven’t. Or that a more prescient playwright than myself will give us a vision of how to tackle it all. Very best David Williamson

  51. David Williamson

    I’ve finally worked out that Jason Whittaker’s damning assessment of my place in Australian theatre was a cunning ploy to attempt to addict me to blogging, in the hope it would leave me no time to write any more of my ” fat and lazy” plays. So can I just sum up and get back to my real work of forcing stale jokes on misguided audiences. Thank you all for your often courteous responses and I guess my final defence is best expressed by the artistic director of the MTC Simon Phillips when put under pressure by our philosopher kings of theatre as to why he kept programming my plays. He said “It’s kind of annoying to create a paradigm which implies that MTC audiences aren’t allowed to see an Australian playwright whose work they clearly enjoy.”

    The Greeks used to award a prize to the best plays of the year and that prize wasn’t decided by a small circle of self appointed theatre pundits but by the audiences putting marbles into an urn to express their likes and dislikes. The Greek plays that have survived are the ones they chose.

    I guess at it’s broadest I’m saying that it’s incredibly hard to identify or define “serious art” as distinct from commercial rubbish. In his brilliant book on Serious Art, the philosopher John Passmore shows just how difficult that task is. He points out that time and again the “serious art” of one epoch becomes the pretentious and forgotten art of the next and the entertainment of one epoch becomes the great art of the next. Moliere was a case in point. He churned out his comedies to keep his theatre afloat so it could do his serious tragedies which were considered his masterpieces. Now no theatre in its right mind would program his tragedies and his comedies are the great works of art never out of theatre repetoires.

    It’s all too easy for a self appointed group of gurus to insist that they know what’s art and what isn’t and to attempt to deny the public their right to judge on the basis of their supposed superior tastes. The gurus are usually wrong. Only time sorts out the wheat from the chaff and I’m happy for history to make that decision in my case, but I’m clearly not as impressed by any attempt on the part of a handful of self appointed cognescenti to prevent the public from enjoying what they happen to enjoy now. Best David W

  52. talanoaman

    This is delightfully post-modern to have a playwright with a national reputation engaging with a little known critic who’s given him such a savaging. I assume that it’s the real David Williamson posting these comments? There are so many impostors in national life nowadays that one can’t be sure.

    Williamson’s claim that Jason Whittaker has misinterpreted his work and that it’s actually a parody of the behaviour and attitudes of his characters is surely neither here nor there. If the play was well conceived and well executed, clever, witty, rapier sharp or any number of other permutations, he would undoubtedly have said so. Never mind John Howard’s culture wars or any other cause celebre for an intellectual brawl, Whittaker has decided Williamson’s work is a dud. And he’s entitled to his opinion.

    If it is you, David, you’ve already spoken through the work and no amount of massaging in these columns is going to change anything. Does anyone really care if you come from a selfish generation that put up house prices? Come on! We go to the theatre to be challenged and entertained. Some people seemed to have enjoyed the work, others didn’t, including Jason Whittaker. As I see it, your reputation remains intact on the basis of your previous work but like all writers, you’re only as good as your last effort. Getting down and dirty in these columns isn’t going to change the fact that some people seem to have decided that your best work is behind you. Welcome to the club.

  53. gaustin

    First rule of theatre – entertain
    Does this play do that – yes
    Does the audience appear to like it – without question
    Everyone I know who has been has loved it – including myself.
    So why is it that the critics appear to have attended a different play?

    Perhaps they cant cope with criticism form Williamson?
    Or is it that they just dont understand the value of theatre?
    Shakespeare got the priorities of theatre, do our critics?
    I wonder who has made a reputation that will be remembered 50 or 100 years from now – the critics?
    Nah – just failed wannabes

  54. David Williamson

    Ok, much to the horror of my wife the last two blogs have drawn me back to this new artform. Firstly thank you Gaustin. The feedback you’re getting is the feedback that’s certainly being reflected at the box office. The problem with opening nights is nobody pays for their tickets, the ones that do pay want to be there. On to talanoaman, who by inviting me to join the club seems to suggest his best creative days are behind him. Commiserations, but forgive me if I’m arrogant enough not to believe that’s true just because Justin says it is. The thought that my work should stand up for itself and that I should refrain from comment in some sort of self imposed ivory tower has never been one followed by most artists. They’re always arguing with critics and it’s healthy. And if changing the critics minds is rare, then their public arguments have patently influenced other critics and the general public to change their opinion. David Hare is notorious for taking to critics and a lot of his arguments make sense. I don’t intend to go as far as the fine British playwright David Storey who attempted unsuccessfully to change a critics opinion with a baseball bat in a pub, but I feel I’m entitled to respond in public when I think Jason got something wrong. And I think he did get it wrong when he assumed the political opinions of Mal and Don were my own. In fact I know he was wrong because I was laughing at the fatuousness of much of what they were saying as I wrote it, and the audience certainly respond to their “wisdom” that way. You wrote ” If the play was well conceived and well executed, clever, witty, rapier sharp or any number of other permutations, he would undoubtedly have said so.” but if you’d have written “If the play IN JASON’S OPINION, was well conceived and well executed etc etc would have said so.” it would have been more to the point. Jason is not everyman. His opinion is his opinion and he’s perfectly entitled to express it but it doesn’t represent a necessary truth. Those people paying money to see it and expressing the positive opinions Gaustin notes, do seem to be suggesting that it’s well conceived and well executed. Who are we to believe. Their collective truth or his.
    In my whole response I wasn’t ever challenging in any way Justin’s right to have his opinion. My argument with him was on two points. I think his language was unnecessarily vituperative and personal, and I strongly objected to his opinion that “The Melbourne Theatre company should be condemned for allowing “mainstream” theatregoers ….to believe that the artform isn’t any better than this.” In other words the Melbourne theatre company should make the decision, on the basis of Jason’s opinion, not to program me because my work falls below his standards.
    But of course as he goes on to imply, it’s not just HIS standards. He goes on to say “elites should exorcise him (Myself) at once.” and this is the point of my argument. According to Jason, Elites are to decide, not the paying public. Isn ‘t that some kind of throwback to Plato’s republic ruled by philosopher Kings? I trust the public more than Justin to let me know when I’m failing or succeeding. And I reserve the right to my opinion just as Justin has the right to his.

  55. birdbirdbird

    Jason Whittaker, I think you shot yourself in the foot with this review. I now really want to see this play, and I dont really wanna read your reviews.
    Thanks for bringing people to the theatre David, and for responding so thoroughly to this review. I may not enjoy the play, but I’ll probably enjoy the play that is subsidised by your play. Or maybe I wont. But someone else probably will, and that’s a good thing.
    There is lots of great theatre going on in this town, I hope there is something for everyone, not just Whittaker and his elites.

  56. David Williamson

    Thanks Bird Bird Bird and I do hope you enjoy it. And Jason, sincere apologies for switching you at random from Jason to Justin. With the plays I do lots of drafts but here I’ve not yet learned to read carefully before I press the button. Best David W.

  57. Charles

    Well Jason, no one knows who you are but the nation and a lot of the world know who David Williamson is, and after these intelligent replies by him you are no doubt grateful for the lesson in how to conduct a civil yet spirited discussion without resorting to childish vituperation. Who knows, perhaps some day we’ll all value your words as well. Keep trying. And the next time one of your cutting edge friends puts on a play that no one comes to see, you can thank David Williamson for subsidising it.

  58. talanoaman

    Come on, this has all gone too far. So David Williamson gets a withering review. Big deal. Only in Oz, the land of the little people, would anyone give a toss. Since when has a playwright responded to the critics in such detail? Isn’t it a cardinal rule of the theatre not to do so? Give it a break, Davo. Even Harold Pinter lashed out only momentarily. I’m afraid all these magnum opus postings of yours in response to Jason Whittaker above and a full, unedited right of reply in Crikey today are really more than you deserve. Whatever his literary pedigree, the boy’s entitled to his opinion and doesn’t deserve to be trampled by all your fawning supporters who’ve joined you in the ruck. Enough already. On the evidence, your skin isn’t so much thin as translucent. You’d be well advised to heed the words of that doyen of the critics, Ken Tynan, when someone like you cried out to him in anguish: “Sympathy, sympathy, where will I find sympathy?!” Tynan’s withering response: ” Somewhere between shit and syphilis in the Shorter Oxford Dictionary”. There’s a lesson there. Take it.

  59. Charles

    Ummm…so let’s see…some person named Jason is entitled to “full unedited” comment but someone with a forty year reputation as the nation’s most successful and most-performed playwright (sorry Talanoaman, I know those words must be like wormwood to you) does not deserve to be heard. As you say, only in the land of the little people…
    And I think Tynan was also the one who described the relationship of critic to the playwright as that of the dog to the lampost…
    I am grateful for this discussion,I now can’t wait to see a play I otherwise might have missed.

  60. Charles

    And having read Kathleen Tynan’s book describing a few of Ken’s proclivities, we should not be surprised that shit and syphilis were on his mind…a doyen of critics indeed, Talanoaman, a doyen indeed…

  61. talanoaman

    Charlie, the guy ain’t Shakespeare, just as Jason Whittaker ain’t Ken Tynan. But do you really think that even “someone with a forty year reputation as the nation’s most successful and most-performed playwright” is beyond the criticism of mere mortals or, in this case, a young pup? Is that the quality of intellectual discourse you want in this country, fawning Soviet-style worship of literary figures just because they got a state bauble like Williamson’s AO? I suspect none of the frenzied backlash against Jason Whittaker has anything to do with this play. It’s the knee-jerk reaction of the pinot-swilling luvvies of the moneyed left to what they regard as a presumptuous attack on one of their intellectual and political icons. Like Williamson, many of them have moved from their Birchgrove or South Melbourne waterfronts to Noosa or Byron yet their outlooks remain embedded in early 1970s Glebe or Prahran. These are people who think the nation’s development ended with Paul Keating and regard John Howard and Tony Abbot as trash. They’d say the same about Julia Gillard if they weren’t so concerned about a cuff on the ear from their scented, chattering, philandering wives. Anyone like Whittaker who punctures their bloated egos is OK by me. With their bloated bank accounts ( and we know this from Williamson himself), they’ll survive. Diddums.

  62. Noodle Bar

    WTF? WHY can’t Williamson respond to criticism and discuss his work on public fora? When everyone else is perfectly free to? That’s just plain weird.

    I did note with interest, his leap in his comments, to a discussion as to whether or not his work was Art or not. My fist question would be “is it a good play?” which, to me, is a different question from “is it art?”

    Now off to read Willamson’s article in today’s Crikey which I didn’t want to read until I reread the review and these fascinating comments.

  63. upshot

    Its incredible how damning people will be of outward signs of commercial success. Awards. Money. When Williamson is the top of the arts tree…. and the tree is dwarfed by a commercial forest, most in the arts want to cut it down and not address the obvious inequities compared to other industries.

    Any artist worth a pinch of shit knows that neither money or awards solve the negatives of the human condition. Clear from Williamson’s anxious and heartfelt responses here.

    As someone on twitter said; “I’d be happier if his response was “I don’t give a shit I am too busy rolling around in piles of cash.”

    But he’s not.

    You set your own bar by damning your own.

  64. talanoaman

    “Upshot”, this is not an assault on commercial success nor on David Williamson’s place on the arts totem. It’s about the right of someone like Jason Whittaker to pass comment on one of his plays without being splayed by a boulder of hysterical indignation from Williamson’s camp followers. It’s only a play, for God’s sake, an entertaining interlude and a rather pedestrian one at that if any of Whittaker’s observations are valid. Yet you’d think he’d made blasphemous statements about the Koran judging from the avalanche of fatwas now being issued against him by the country’s cultural Mullahs. So we can criticise the work of anyone else in Australia but not our cosseted arts luminaries? And anyone who dares do so is a philistine motivated by envy of their veneration and commercial success? Gimme a break. This is really the low road to mediocrity for any country. In Britain and the US, this would be an entertaining little stoush. Here, it’s all out cultural war. Too, too precious.

  65. upshot

    Finally! After sixty odd posts the penny is dropping. It’s only a play… So comment on that fairly and honestly and leave out the fantasy and the attacks on the writer and everyone who is intellectually challenged enough to laugh at his work. Especially if you are going to pose as a journalist writing a review. Again it’s irrelevant that Jason hates the play he should absolutely be able to express that.

    good on crikey for having this space for people to respond. Its just a shame they have to shake the cage so much to boost their readership but they are up against a one dimensional and powerful media machine in this country so to some extent they have too.

    But as my final comment, I’d have more of an inclination to pay a subscription if they held off from
    The same tactics the herald sun uses.

  66. FSN

    Late, late, late to the party. But, on the offchance anyone saunters back this way, I’d just like to say to Talanoaman that it’s ingenuous to be upset at the ‘hysterical’ reactions to Jason’s review. Jason set the tone.

    I was there on opening night. I found the play unnecessary, and the character/realisation of Richard utterly bizarre and unbelievable, but I had an okay time. I was entertained. One of the many great advantages to not attending theatre all the time is that when I do, it’s all the more enjoyable.

    I admire David greatly for rolling up his sleeves and blogging like a beast. The fact that he felt the need may reveal a sensitive nature, but the fact that he did it is courageous. These forums, as noted, can get pretty bloody personal. I respect anyone who sticks their neck out, particularly when they have a ‘name’; these days all you’ve got to do is make one slip on twitter and you’re dog meat.

    And three cheers for Lally Katz.

    That is all.

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