BWW REVIEW: New All Female Take on David Williamson's THE CLUB Shares The Enduring Story Of Sports Teams And Masculinity With A Magnified Lens
Saturday 8th December 2018, 8:15pm, Downstairs Theatre, Belvoir St Theatre
Adelaide based isthisyours? Theatre company brings their three actor take on David Williamson's THE CLUB with an all-female cast to the 25A Belvoir program. Providing a distorted window into the past, their take on the 1977 sports-based satire proves that not much has changed in the intervening four decades.
As with Williamson's other works, THE CLUB takes a look at middle class life that goes on behind closed doors of Australian settings, in this case a Australian Rules Football club in the 1970's. A crisis meeting of sorts is taking place between club president Ted and coach Laurie to try to stop Laurie from resigning after he released a rather scathing statement about Ted to the newspapers. Club administrator Gerry has made it his business to also be present at the meeting, under the pretext of helping but it soon becomes clear that his sole motivation is to protect the club rather than the individuals. The article has proven a catalyst for Team Captain Danny and Club Vice President Jock to want to weigh in whilst other plots and plans are gradually unearthed along with the questionable 'buying' of star Tasmanian recruit Geoff.
Whilst the base material remains untouched, Director Tessa Leong reduces the cast to three and presents the work with three females dressed rather comically as stereotypes of the 1970's Australian male with fake moustaches out of craft fur, dreadful wigs and hideous clothes. The intimate space of Belvoir St's downstairs theatre is transformed into the club's office with a single desk, assortment of chairs, bar trolley, hatstand and wall of photographs of former members.
Jude Henshall as Ted and Jock, Louisa Mignone as Gerry and Geoff and Ellen Steele as Laurie and Danny, all deliver strong performances with some great physicality and skill at remembering which character they are playing from line to line and ensuring the related physicality and speech patterns are maintained. Between the costuming and the physicality, Williamson's satire turns into farce from the first entrance and it just gets heightened from there. Leong deals with the challenge of performers doubling characters that are on stage at the same time with the aid of suspended bulldog clips that allow the character's hair to be a placeholder of sorts as the performers dart around the stage. Amusing at first the gag does start to wear thin quickly though, even with the sole unchanging performer Mignone as Gerry playing up the absurdity of the work by being perpetually perplexed at the bodyless synthetic mops.
Whilst giving the audience a little relief from the repeated singular gag of the first act, the second act involves more obscure directorial choices and a raft of other gags that don't seem to hold much purpose other than to utilize a range of sight jokes that Leong and the team have brainstormed. Whilst the trio change costumes and present different expressions of their characters, the underlying voice and mannerisms remain relatively constant and the changeover of which characters performers were covering seems unnecessary.
Whilst THE CLUB considers issues around money in sports, loyalty, tradition, power, views about women, masculinity and hypocrisy, things that are probably still quite prevalent in contemporary competitive sports teams, THE CLUB didn't seem to really hold the interest of a non-sports interested audience. Moments that would probably be humorous if they were seen as relatable were just seen as excessive and indulgent of the middle-aged white middle class men that ran the organization. The cross dressing and comic physicality went some way to maintain interest but as mentioned, the tactics grew stale quickly or simply bamboozled the audience that were trying to follow the plot. It would have been more intriguing if Leong had taken this work and considered how it could be translated to an expression of women's sport, particularly given that Woman's Australia Rules Football has emerged to greater prominence since Williamson wrote THE CLUB.
Amusing if a little long, THE CLUB shines a spotlight on sport, how it is manipulated and how it is much more than the game. Potentially better suited to audiences that may have an interest in sport from the outset as it doesn't really engage universal emotions or understanding like other sports based stories but also appealing to those who like an absurd comedy interpretation of a classic Australian play.