Improving on Williamson

Wednesday, March 27, 1991

The Removalists

By David Williamson

Directed by Marcelle Schmitz

Deck Chair Theatre, Fremantle. Tues-Sat nights until April 13.

Reviewed by Ian Bolas

"You dead cunt", Kenny yells at the police sergeant who has beaten and humiliated him. It's a shocking line even to our relatively brutalised ears. Full of sexual disgust and misogynistic violence, it suggests much of the cause of the play's catastrophic action.

Two policemen become involved in a situation of domestic violence. In the predatory hope of an opportunity to "thread the eye of the golden doughnut", they decide to help the wife (and her sister) to remove her furniture from the family home. They wind up beating her husband to death.

Combining black humour with violence, the play remains a disturbing experience 20 years after its first production.

However, the text suggests more questions than it poses effectively. Its attempts to deal with the ways in which violence is implicit in the relations of domination/subordination (between men and women, old and young, police and public) in a patriarchal and capitalist society remain frustratingly unfocussed.

The women's parts are underwritten and tend to lack credibility, especially in terms of motivation. Consequently they fail to carry the weight necessary to one of the play's central points — the relationships between sexual repression, misogyny and violence between men. It's not surprising that most critics have fallen back on talking about "the violence inherent in Australian society" as though it were a product of the landscape or the weather.

But none of these criticisms reflects on the quality of this production. It is well acted and directed. The set is naturalistic and unobtrusive. Deck Chair is an intimate theatre, and the problems involved in presenting the play's physical violence so close to the audience are well managed.

The most innovative aspect is the casting of Aboriginal actors in the roles of Linda and Kenny, the couple whose domestic problems set the plot in motion. This gives the play an extra dimension of political meaning and contemporary relevance.

It does produce some initial difficulties, though. The audience must adjust to the idea that Aboriginal Linda has a white socialite for a sister and a mother who is "stinking rich".

Since the text provides no logic for this, the audience must imagine one. This is not necessarily a bad thing, since it leads us to question some of our subtler racist assumptions.

Kelton Pell is superb as Kenny. He plays the part with ease and naturalness. As Linda, Jedda Cole provides a sensitive performance which is as credible as it could be, given the difficulties of the part. Julia Moody overcomes similar difficulties in bringing da's sister.

As the repressed and sadistic police sergeant, Bill McCluskey is frighteningly convincing. The character's psychological fragility impels him to dominate everyone around him.

By turns moralistic and sexually predatory, condescendingly good humoured and physically and verbally abusive, Simmonds has a clear underlying logic. He must always be in control of others because of his own sexual and emotional insecurity. His puritanism and sexual predatoriness are two faces of the same coin. All of this is effectively realised in McCluskey's performance.

Andrew Gilbert and Glen Hayden are also convincing in their roles. Gilbert in particular suggests a complexity of motivation which prevents the character from becoming merely clownish.

Marcelle Schmitz's direction is unobtrusive and effective.

All in all, The Removalists is well worth seeing. The production goes a long way towards compensating for the play's deficiencies.

Deck Chair from its inception has sought to be a genuinely local theatre, reflecting the community back to itself in a thought-provoking way. Its success is reflected in the social make-up of the audience, which includes many who would not be found rattling their jewellery in the foyer of His Majesty's.

The Removalists continues this tradition by siting the play's action in Fremantle in a convincing manner.

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