Adelaide Fringe. Star Theatre. 28 Feb 2017
One of the beautiful things about the Fringe Festival is that it allows new talent to stretch its wings, to put on a show.
So it comes to pass that unknown director Milton Penhaligon has rallied a group of mainly old school friends and gone all the way with a production of Don’s Party.
It is a great big, beautiful, vulgar David Williamson play, a window into Australian suburbia and sexism of the 1960s and the night of the 1969 election in which Liberal John Gorton defeated Gough Whitlam. For the young cast, not even a gleam in a parental eye back then, this is a history play and a lot of research has gone into putting it on stage. But, of course, they are about the same age as the protagonists.
Penhaligon has done well in casting the characters to type.
The production has worked hard on period costumes, too. The women float around in the long smock dresses of the time, albeit with one jarring fashion element: an awkward stretchy mini skirt. It’s a good, tight set. Somehow they have found an old TV with bunny ears, a ghastly pop art style bar and an assortment of chairs which squeeze on to the tiny stage at Star. It is all very intimate, which it needs to be for some of the actors for whom projection does not come naturally.
It is a passionate and sincere production and, in the end of the day, a winning one.
One might give more credit where it is due but the program is extremely skimpy; more focused on a wry comment on the characters than on the actors or behind-scenes crew. It describes the play’s content as: "Right Wing, Left Wing; Toilet talk; Misogyny; Pizza; Failed Adultery”. It states: “The cast of Don’s Party acknowledges that we are performing in Ghana (sic) land”.
All very offbeat and Fringe.
It was wonderful to see this great play after many decades and also touching to see the intensity with which a new generation revives the absolute worst of yesterday’s boozy Australiana - molesting women, wife-swapping, crass male beer talk.
Penhaligon has looked for laughs and there are plenty. The bottles mount up as the party degenerates. The flagrante-delicto high moment has Rohan Gaskin as lothario Cooley running exposed across the stage. It’s overall a nice, fearless characterisation from Gaskin. Everyone has to bring something pornographic to the party. He brings Susan who is rather appealingly played by Nora Goodbourn. Ben Tymukas, sucking on a pipe and rocking on his heels as Simon, is copybook for the 60s poseur. Brendan Boyce plays agro Leftie sod, Mal, with a streak of disarming affability while James Gaffey as the defensive dentist finds audience sympathy. His wife, Kerry, played by Hannah Weir, is vain and self-serving. Weir is quite convincing. Ditto Don’s sour wife, Kath. Carla Gaskin is not always easy to hear in this role but she nails the long-suffering, dreary predicament of many young wives of the period. Husband Don is played by the director, Milton Penhaligon as a bit of a lacklustre no-hoper. He gets quietly drunker and drunker until he seems upright but barely awake. As for Jody, wife of repressed and posturing Simon, she’s the admitted right winger at the party, smug, bourgeois, twitchy and very funny; a nice performance by Rita Horanyi. The character of Mac was famously played by Graham Kennedy in the film so it is a hard act to follow. Dylan Johnson does not try. With a totally absurd drinking mug around his neck instead of the classic stein, he is the great sleazy Aussie good bloke. Anisha Pillarisetti plays Jenny, the stuffy one of the group, married to Mal, and delivers a character who is tired, bored and unfulfilled. She represents a mass of womanhood of that period, part of the very reason for the rise of feminism.
Clearly Penhaligon is finding his feet as a director but, having rounded up such a dedicated cast of enthusiastic amateurs and mounted quite passably such a very demanding Williamson play, he shows that he has the grit to go places. Bravo.
When: 28 Feb to 5 Mar
Where: Star Theatre