#SheReviews Emerald City

February 17, 2020

Image- David Kelly

1987 was a memorable year for me. It was the year I was married, my first year of teaching  and the year we bought our first home. It was also the year in which playwright, David Williamson, was thinking about the dynamics of a marriage.The year in which his satire,  Emerald City was first staged. Fast forward to 2020 in Queensland and here I am sitting in the audience peering down at one of Australia’s best known playwrights and waiting for an amazing ensemble of a- list actors to stamp their mark on this production. There is electricity in the air. The Opening Night audience know this moment will be forever etched in our memories.

 It’s so fitting in this 50th year of Queensland Theatre that the first play of the 2020 season celebrates 50 years of Australia’s beloved playwright, David Williamson. Williamson’s acerbic comedy , Emerald City, has been given a modern facelift and is as relevant today as when it was written. Directed by Sam Strong and featuring a stellar cast including Jason Klarwein, Nadine Garner, Rhys Muldoon and Marg Downey, this comedy is a play that will make you think, question your own relationships and values and often tickle your funny bone. 

All night I found myself thinking , ‘What would I do?’. Our SheSociety team were thrilled to be back at the Playhouse, QPAC for Opening Night where well heeled guests, including Dame Quentin Bryce, Ministers Jackie Trad and Leeanne Enoch, Ben from Brisbane and the proud Williamson family, braved torrential rain to enjoy one of the hottest tickets for 2020 and honour the man who now calls Queensland home, David Williamson.

The Story 

Emerald City tells the story of creative couple Kate, a publisher and Colin, a screenwriter. They move their family from staid Melbourne to the sparkling ‘Emerald City‘ of Oz – Sydney to pursue their dreams. They are soon stymied by the age old dilemma of integrity versus riches. Emerald City portrays an era I know so well, 80’s Australia, with all its optimism, entrepreneurship and ambitious ideals. It was the era of Gordon Gekko and his mantra ‘Greed is good!‘, a time of Yuppies and Dinks, an era of fancy dinner parties at home complete with plenty of our newest vice – wine.

The play explores relationships and the internal struggles of the individuals portrayed on stage. Ultimately, Emerald City asks the age old question: “How far are we expected to go to get what we want?“ 

The Cast 

Queensland Theatre stalwart Jason Klarwein (Hedda , Once in Royal David’s City) plays Colin, the one time gun screenwriter who is these days off his game. Returning to the glitz of Sydney, Colin teams with a hack writer to work on his pet project screenplay, Coastwatchers, but he soon finds himself faced with a stark choice: make art or make a motza? Klarwein shows the inner turmoil and angst with skill and drives the pace and timing of the whole play.  

His ambitious wife, Kate is played by Nadine Garner (TV’s Dr Blake’s Mysteries, City Homicide and one of my favourite shows, The Henderson Kids). Kate is a publisher on the rise with a penchant for risk taking. She moves from her high moral ideals to looking out for number one as the play progresses. I liked Garner’s uncoiling of this seemingly highbrow character, whom she played with intelligence and wit.

The pair explore complex ideas and their relationship with plenty of hilarity along the way. The complex rivalry to be found in a marriage, the ability for humans to make fools of themselves and that very human hunger for fame and recognition is at the heart of this couple’s story. Add in the age old rivalry between Sydney and Melbourne, between public and private schools, between new and old money and you have some laugh out loud moments from this explosive and intelligent pair. 

The stellar cast also showcases the many talents of Marg Downey ( Rupert and TV’s Kath and Kim ) , whose turn as Elaine reminds us of her hilarious Prue and Trude skits from the  Fast Forward days. One of my favourites, Ray Chong Nee ( Hydra, Noises Off ) is suitably urbane and a little jaded, as high flying businessman, Malcolm and the beautiful Megan Hind ( TV’s Secret Bridesmaids Business, Cleverman) lights up the stage. Much loved actor Rhys Muldoon ( House Husbands and Playschool favourite) who reunites with David Williamson after his starring role in 2018’s Nearer the Gods, relishes his role as pushy huckster, Mike. Muldoon shows us another side to his acting skills. He was an inspired choice for this role and I smiled every time he walked on stage.

Special mention must go to sets and lighting. The use of the glass revolving room to perform a myriad of roles works well. I could see those coveted Sydney harbour views as the actors gazed into the distance. The gleaming sparkles behind and the curves of the set reminded us of the bridge, the Opera House and the glitzy Sydney lifestyle the Cast were chasing. Lighting was used to great effect and an 80’s soundtrack added to the nostalgic feel. 

Costumes were on point with the baggy pleated pants for men, oversized jackets with shoulder pads for women, jumpsuits and block colours. The amount of court shoes was mind boggling and I had to laugh remembering that they were all I wore back in the day. Marg Downey’s array of sparkly jackets were a character in their own right. I loved the nostalgic fashion elements and laughed at how many 80’s trends have returned in recent times.

Once the actors had taken their bows, the audience hushed as new Artistic Director, Lee Lewis presented David Williamson with a massive bunch of bright sunshine yellow flowers. David explained that the play was more than a little autobiographical. He says, “To tell the truth, those conflicts and choices weren’t a million miles away from some of my own and my family’s experiences when I drove from Melbourne to Sydney all those years ago. My wife, Kristin, did find it uncomfortably close when Robyn Nevin, playing Kate, said to her during rehearsals, ‘I’m playing you again‘.”

As the audience rose as one to give David a standing ovation we all knew we were experiencing a special moment, 50 years in the making. Heading out into the drizzle, we found ourselves walking to the elegant after party at Soleil Pool Bar behind the great man himself, with passersby doing a double take when they saw this giant of a man delicately carrying a mammoth bunch of flowers. He bowed and nodded in greeting. You just had to smile! To me that sums up the man himself, not afraid of emotion, with a sense of fun and a gallant way about him. This glittering production is in collaboration with the Melbourne Theatre Company and shows how working together can create greatness and change in uncertain times. David Williamson’s Emerald City will be playing at the Playhouse, QPAC until February 29. 

David Williamson