David Williamson’s 1987 play and subsequent film, Emerald City is as relevant today as it was back then. The story is a satire based on two creative industries: filmmaking and book publishing. It looks at the dichotomy between producing something because it has creative or cultural significance or because it is a money-making machine that will do well commercially. It is an intriguing idea, even if the play itself is quite prolix.
The Griffin Theatre Company’s version, directed by Lee Lewis had previously played at the SBW Stables Theatre in Kings Cross and on Wednesday night it made its debut at Parramatta’s Riverside Theatre. The story is told through a series of scenes/events as well as monologues where the characters reveal intimate details about their thoughts, motivations and mindsets. These parts are also broken up by eighties sound bites (including snatches of Yello’s “Oh Yeah” and Fine Young Cannibals’ “She Drives Me Crazy”). These are complimented by two different rainbow-coloured backdrops of Sydney Harbour that are designed by the artist, Ken Done.
Emerald City is about Colin (Mitchell Butel), a rising script-writer and his wife Kate (Lucy Bell), a publisher with a strong moral conscience (or so it seems). The two leave their Melbourne home with their children in order to live in Sydney. The play begins with comparisons between the two towns and never has the following phrase about Sydney been so true: “It never rains, it buckets here”. This was one of Williamson’s many brilliant lines, which boasted equal amounts of wit, intelligence and interesting observation.
The couple were originally drawn to the “Emerald City of Oz” but they do face some difficulties in adjusting. Colin isn’t particularly keen on writing about a certain subject even though his long-time collaborator and producer, Elaine (Jennifer Hagan) is sure it will be a hit. Colin also attends his first industry party where he encounters the big-talking shyster and hack writer named Mike (Ben Winspear). The two work together on a project but it is Mike that ultimately reaps the biggest benefits. Ben Winspear is absolutely electric as the Bogan Mike. He steals scenes with his quick-talking, animated delivery. The other actors also put in good performances and they are supported by Kelly Paterniti and Gareth Yuen, playing Mike’s girlfriend and an investment banker, respectively.
Emerald City contains some very clever dialogue but it could have benefited from a little bit more action. The story is very much driven by the words delivered by the six different characters, which show these people at their nastiest and most difficult and vulnerable moments. The play is a comedy centred on human folly and shows how greed and money can exacerbate this. It is set in a period that promoted this idea – the eighties were the height of excess – and it is still an enjoyable and relatable slice of various home truths to this very day.
Originally published on 12 December 2014 at the following website: http://www.theaureview.com/arts/reviews/emerald-city-riverside-theatre-parramatta-performances-until-december-13
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