April 11, 2019

Three women storm a male bastion to revel in ocker posturing and gender satire

The Club
by David Williamson
State Theatre Company and Kojo presents an isthisyours? and Insite Arts production.
Space Theatre, Adelaide Festival Centre.
April 9. Tickets: $32- $61. Bookings 131 246 or online
Duration 2 hours 20 minutes (including interval)
Until April 20.

First performed in 1977, The Club ranks among the best of David Williamson’s extensive dramatic repertoire. Set in an unnamed AFL football club, its brisk farce and pungent satire captures the niggle, back-biting and shameless hypocrisy of male boardroom culture.

The play also celebrates the Australian game and the fierce loyalty it inspires. Williamson has affection for footy and its traditions, and presciently anticipates the corporatisation and commercialism which has occurred in the 43 years since it was written.

When the inventive Adelaide-based company, isthisyours? wanted to perform The Club with three women actors playing all the roles, Williamson stipulated that his original text stay intact. Director Tessa Leong and her creative team have kept to the pact and the result is a sharp, witty and exuberantly funny take on an Australian classic.

Designer Renate Henschke has a ball with the 70s setting. The boardroom is decorated with trophy shelves, photo displays and honour boards. The tables are varnished pine, the vinyl chairs the colour of babypoo. The costumes are every shade of beige and mustard, with flared trousers in grape and maroon velour. The set becomes a painted flat for Act 2, opening on to an iridescent green footy field with goalposts, all sumptuously lit by Susan Grey-Gardner.

The actors revel in their ocker posturing, complete with heavy moustaches and mullet wigs. Long wires dangle from above the stage so that wigs can be attached and, accompanied by Catherine Oates’s ratchetty sound effects, the players dash from one mullet to another as they madly differentiate dialogue between the characters.

Just when you wonder how long this dagginess can go on for, the play begins to settle into Williamson’s assured and unsparing text. The multiple performances become increasingly absorbing. Ellen Steele is all whiskers and defiance as Danny, the key player whose star is waning, and captures the developing complexity of Laurie, the besieged coach.

Louisa Mignone nails the devious machinations of Gerry the ambitious administrator, and is almost coquettish as the blonde, hedonistic recruit, Geoff. In the plum role of Ted, the hapless club president and footy tragic, Nadia Rossi excels, as she does as Jock, the scheming, self-serving usurper.

Under Leong’s lucid direction the satire on gender is powerfully indicated. The casual references to domestic violence are shocking, the swagger of the blokes and the ready sacrifice of principle is made ridiculous. In Act 2 there are references to the recent women’s AFL Grand Final, and Laurie and Gerry switch to being women’s roles. This is The Club seen from every which way.

“Three women storm a male bastion to revel in ocker posturing and gender satire”, The Australian, April 11, 2019, p.14.

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