Laughing all the way to (their) bank


The Temple
By Louis Nowra
Sydney Theatre Company
Wharf Theatre to February 12
Reviewed by Helen Jarvis.

Sydney Theatre Company has kicked off its 1994 season with a powerful comedy about the venality of capitalism. Louis Nowra has applied his renowned playwright skills to another subject of social and political importance and, matched with a strong cast and the striking direction of Richard Wherrett, it certainly makes maximum impact.

"A business entrepreneur is a con man who hasn't been caught yet. If anything, that is the underlying theme of my new play", says Nowra. Laurie Blake, played brilliantly by Colin Friels, is an amalgam of all the entrepreneur/con men of the 1980s in Australia — the Bonds, the Elliotts and all.

But it is not only the "new" money that gets Nowra's stick. The old establishment shows itself to be just as ruthless and treacherous both to one another and to the brash outsider. And Nowra doesn't let others off the hook — as he says, "The politicians sought them out to bask in their reflected glow. Financial journalists built up these men into heroes, writing sycophantic articles and promoting them as shrewd and intelligent game players. And it mustn't be forgotten that the public adored them." This last point is hilariously illustrated in the play by a diner at a restaurant who sells the suit off his back to help Laurie out of a spot, and then comes across the stage in his shirt and underpants shouting, "Good on yer, Laurie"

Despite its impact and racy pace, the play seems too long, falling short somewhere along the line. Perhaps the subject matter lends itself too easily to gross and cardboard cut-out characterisation, to cheap throw-away lines and titillation. Nowra allows the audience to indulge in every anti-homosexual attitude by his derogatory stereotyping.

Or perhaps it is just that all the characters are such awful people, with not a single one to identify with and none of them having a moment of self-doubt or regret as they play their financial games. The people whose lives they ruin in the process are completely missing from the play apart from one line: "One man fired is a tragedy, a thousand is a statistic".

Of course the central character's business empire collapses and he flees the country with his wife and financial adviser, feigning illness to avoid returning to Australia to face the courts. It's all too familiar. But Nowra has one final twist — they decide to move to greener pastures where new capitalism has no rules. The final line of the play has Laurie Blake announcing, "Next stop is Vietnam!".