December 06, 1985

Sparing an audience unease

Adelaide’s Stage Company has made a strong finish to its 1985 season with John Noble’s production of David Williamson’s Sons of Cain which has opened in the Festival Centre Space.

As readers of these columns already know, Sons of Cain is a drame a clef you don’t need to be a locksmith to pick. It deals with a certain national weekly with a feisty editor and tenacious journalists committed to investigative reporting and shows why there are a thousand stories in the Naked City but somehow they never get printed.

Williamson’s main character, Kevin Cassidy, is a bouquet to the integrity of those who persist where others have prudently desisted. Written specifically for Max Cullen, the part is a composite of Hammett shamus and disheveled, heart-of-gold newshound, and when he recruits three women journalists it all comes close to being a kind of socially responsible Charlie’s Angels.

But the script has more than enough pace and wit to keep the stereotypes and worthy sentiments moving.

In the lead, Max Cullen makes an engaging moving target, delivering his tailored lines with that mixture of nonchalance and edge which he has always made to look easy.

He inhabits the part like his rumpled suits, lingering over the dialogue, slouching in chairs with mock self deprecation and generally rolling with the punch lines. His performance is a pleasure to watch but one wonders whether crime-busting is really this good natured.

In the supporting role, Edwin Hodgeman·give good service as Rex Harding, the managing editor with oscillating ethics who, when faced with some gumption from Cassidy, is actually prepared to make a stand himself.

Hodgeman’s hyperactive comic performance provides a useful foil to Cullen’s imperturbable Kev. Don Barker as Belconnen, the press baron, is suitably imposing although the character has inconsistencies that are hard to fathom.

Despite the writer’s concern to depict strong women characters in the play, they are finally marginal and one dimensional with only Kathryn Fisher as Nicole, the world-weary journalist in a male piranha tank, able to engage our interest.

John Noble’s direction rightly focuses on Cullen although the scene shifts could have been crisper and John Senczuks’ set needs to be more versatile. The editorial office, studded with monitors beaming out the video image of Ray Barrett looking more like Big Brother than a State premier is well-realised with its bad-taste marble (or is it Terrazzo tiling) and the ubiquitous word processors.

John Comeadow’s lighting and back projections effectively transform the set to penthouse, pub and restaurant settings, but scene changes are nerve-wracking when the actors have to watch the restaurant’s table disappear like a slow cremation before the lights can come up again.

While it may be too easy to overlook Williamson’s courage and commitment to his subject in Sons Of Cain, by making it a vehicle for sentiment and rhetoric he spares the audience any real unease in its social conscience.

Murray Bramwell

The National Times, December 6, 1985, p.32.

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