The Big Time
we take a look at David Williamson's comedy play The Big Time, on at the Ensemble Theatre until March 16.
Words by: Wendy Kay | Photography: Brett Broadman
No one does moral and ethical behaviour like David Williamson. His razor-sharp instinct spotlights extraordinary dilemmas tormenting ordinary lives as he takes us into a situation, any situation, plonks us in the middle of it and challenges us to take sides. Which we do. Albeit, shifting loyalties throughout.
His latest offering, and his 54th, The Big Time, offers characters so relatable, so flawed, so perfectly normal, you can’t help but love and hate them simultaneously. Who is right? Who is wrong? Who deserves our contempt, who gets the gong of approval? It’s classic Williamson, showcasing an exhausting mess of human frailties.
The story is not new. A couple of actresses vying for a role, a disgruntled one-hit-wonder writer, an imperious promoter and a harried agent, we’ve seen them all before. And of course, we could be forgiven for being a little less fascinated by a play delving into Williamson’s very own world. It’s a world where he has spent more than half a century of his life: the suffering of the arts. Surely, Williamson could have written this on his ear, drawing on his own experiences. Even so, to capture the heady success, shattered dreams, inspiration and hopelessness took some exquisite fine-tuning.
Just as exquisite is Kirribilli’s Ensemble Theatre, offering the perfect intimacy to be thwacked by an in-your-face collapse of friendships, faux as they may be and Director Mark Kilmurry doesn’t spare us any of the angst.
The play centres on Celia (Aileen Huynh) and Vicki (Claudia Barrie), actresses who graduated from NIDA together, yet followed very different paths.
Celia won the lead in their final play at the institute while Vicki was relegated to a bit part of the maid, a resentment Vicki has harboured for years. Celia went on to television soapie stardom, comfortable and cushy, while Vicki remained stubbornly true to her craft, playing more gritty roles in theatre, doggedly sticking it out for the big time. They both share agent Nellie, played brilliantly by Zoe Carides, an insightful empathetic personality who sees beyond the act.
Meanwhile, wallowing in self pity, while waiting for the big time again, scriptwriter Rohan (Jeremy Waters) meets up with old schoolmate Rolly (Ben Wood), whose broken disastrous life is brightened by his memory of Rohan saving his life decades before. Rolly, in his hero worship of his old friend, shares an idea sprung from eavesdropping on a conversation between two women on a train. Unbeknown to the hapless Rolly, an inspired Rohan works on the script and the big time looms again.
When Celia and Vicki decide to collaborate on Rohan’s now-ambitious film project, hope for their fractious friendship emerges. But, of course, there is no hope in a world of breathtaking bitchiness, cruel deceit and crippling self-doubt. Instead these forces combine to trigger a perfect storm with relationships in its destructive path.
The simple set is a perfect backdrop transporting us from office to bar from living room to coffee shop, allowing us to focus entirely on the drama unfolding. While the chemistry between Waters and Huynah doesn’t quite gel, Waters is nonetheless convincing as a writer riddled with insecurities and self-pity. Barrie, the scheming shrew is the woman you’d like to slap, in contrast to Wood, the affable guy in the pub you want to hug. Carides is the agent you want to have.
Love ‘em or hate ‘em these brilliant faulty humans are people we know, maybe not as Williamson does, but in our own worlds. They are everywhere and certainly make wonderful fodder to argue over on the way home.
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