Get your kicks
Crowd-pleaser ... David Williamson takes pleasure in the audience's enjoyment of his work.
In the 1970s I had a hit with The Club, a play set in the back rooms of an AFL club. Plays about football are a somewhat risky proposition for a writer as the sort of people who go to the theatre, according to an Arts Council study I read some time back, tend not to be avid sports lovers, but many years on I've written another play involving a footballer called Managing Carmen.
I don't think I'm tempting fate because both of these plays aren't so much about football as about the effect of the extreme competitive pressure top-level sport places on everyone at the apex of that sport.
That critic is perfectly free to write the play they think I should've written.
Characters under pressure provide the stuff of drama and comedy. They often make poor decisions, which can be tragic or funny.
Well-heeled … Glenn Hazeldine, Leigh Scully, Morgana O'Reilly and David Hynes. Photo: Marco Del Grande
In The Club, the failure of the team to win a premiership exerted heavy pressure on the new young star, Geoff Hayward, to perform. He reacted by smoking hash and hallucinating on the field.
In Managing Carmen, the pressure on star player Brent Lyall is not to play well - he's in fact playing brilliantly - but to conform to the macho ideal that will allow his ruthless manager, Rohan Swift, to exploit Brent's fame by product endorsements, and make them both truckloads of money.
And that's the essential difference between now and the '70s. Now a champion player can make much more endorsing products than from his salary. But in Managing Carmen, Rohan has a problem. First, Brent is a lousy actor, and second, although he's heterosexual, he is a cross-dresser.
Rohan makes herculean efforts in damage control but a particularly repulsive sports journalist is hot on the scent.
The genre is unashamedly comedy with some blatant interludes of farce, but the play does suggest the better angels of our nature can embrace tolerance.
One of my most trenchant critics who has spent the past 25 years castigating me for not being Ibsen, and who was horrified at the audience shrieking with enjoyment when the play opened in Brisbane, wondered why I hadn't had the guts to dip my toes deeper into sexual politics and make my character gay. I have no effective answer to this charge, except it wouldn't have been the play I wanted to write, but that critic is perfectly free to write the play they think I should've written.
I'm not sure it wouldn't be a little passe in any case as Ian Roberts, a champion rugby league player, openly admitted his gayness and the sky didn't fall in. In fact, in most circles he's hugely admired for doing it.
I thought it would be funnier and more poignant to draw on the fact that some 80 per cent of cross-dressers are not gay, and look at the difficulties such a marked deviation from the macho norm would have on a footballer's career and his chances of finding a woman to share his life.
And I really liked the irony that our football pundits and players on television queue up to put on dresses and cavort on footy shows, but would in all probability be the first to condemn a cross-dresser caught out in a nightclub. As one of my pundits in the play says, ''If he was gay he might survive - but dressing up as a woman? His career is over.''
While conceding the play is a whisker less profound than Hamlet or Long Day's Journey into Night, the good thing about being in my fifth decade as a playwright is I've stopped feeling guilty about writing plays that make me laugh and hopefully make audiences laugh, too.
And when the odd serious critic savagely wields the high-art, cutting-edge machete, I don't get nearly as twitchy as I used to. I remember the classic 1941 film by director Preston Sturges called Sullivan's Travels. It's a satire about a movie director who desperately wants to make socially relevant drama, but finds his comedies contribute more to society.
And I have to admit that, unlike my sternest critic, I get great pleasure sitting among an audience patently enjoying themselves.
Managing Carmen is at the Ensemble Theatre from December 6.