isthisyours? theatre presented by State Theatre and Kojo. Space Theatre. 11 Apr 2019
The gloves are off. Once upon a time, it took a brave male playwright to take the mickey out of toxic male culture. David Williamson’s play, The Club, was controversial the moment it hit the stage in the 70s when the term “toxic masculinity” was yet to be invented. It exposed and satirised the boozy, seedy, and manipulative underbelly of the Aussie-Rules football culture.
Now, in the days of women’s footy, women have taken over his play and given it a mighty, mad kick in the funny-bone.
Williamson has approved this all-female version directed by Tessa Leong under the isthisyours? and Insite Arts banners. He said women had suffered men behaving badly for so long that it was time they behaved badly over men behaving badly. And so it comes to pass that three heavenly actors have slapped moustaches on their faces, pigeon-pouted their chests, and turned his classic play 360 degrees and then some in a wild act of retributive whimsy.
This production of The Club is a parody of a satire. It is stylised, inventive, zany and yet hard-hitting. It is all strutting, chain-smoking bully boys in backroom power plays. In many ways, it bounces so far from the original play that it feels like a different work altogether. Perhaps it is because there are only three in the cast and they don’t so much as wear different hats as they leap under different wigs to portray multiple characters. It is a zany and diverting device, the wigs hanging from aloft and actors darting from one to another. As the play progresses, Leong takes this visual gag to extremes and it seems that anyone can leap to any character wig. Meanwhile, the hard wall of the set is replaced by a canvas facade and, with characters in stoned-out-of-their-minds inflated phallus costumes, the play becomes a circus. Therein, the gender impersonation itself is defused. Moustaches come off. Lipstick is applied. Moustaches come back. Somehow the plot survives and the production bounds to its grand reveal. It’s a fabulous climax.
The actors are a bliss of well-studied blokedom. They assume posture and traits of high comic exaggeration, scratching a crotch here, flexing a muscle there, picking up and sending up the myriad macho mannerisms. Nadia Rossi’s gait in her low-girthed pot-bellied fat suit is desperately funny and, oh so well observed. And how smugly she can bare her teeth. What a slimy bullyboy she makes. Meanwhile, Louisa Mignone is the vanity of masculinity, a preening 70s executive fashion-plate, or sleek as the star player and sometimes unnervingly convincing with it. Ellen Steel asserts a sense of physical intimidation, chest out, muscles taut, eyes wide and confrontational.
Don’t mess with this boy. And watch out. He may not be what he seems.
It is not so much that the play is the thing in this madcap androgynous production so much as it is feast and farce of funny acting and a celebration of this different era when, any minute, the gender roles may be turned again.
When: 11 to 20 Apr
Where: Space Theatre