Pat Gallagher as Mal, Peter Robinson as Don and Judi Crane as Kath rehearse. Photo: Jay Cronan
Don Parties On
By David Williamson
Canberra Rep Society At Theatre 3
Until August 17
David Wiliamson's 40-years-on sequel to Don's Party, Don Parties On, is an uneven effort, unlikely to be numbered among his best but it does deliver some lively discussion and plenty of laughs. Thanks to the polished direction of Aarne Neeme and a willing cast, the Canberra Rep's production highlights these strengths.
Williamson regathers the characters from the original play as they come together to watch the ABC's coverage of the 2010 election. Now ageing baby boomers, these characters have had their marital and professional ups and downs and all are a bit worse for wear.
The play consists of their arguing politics, reminiscing, lamenting lost opportunities and offering variations on the theme of "getting old's a bastard of a thing". The "action" is complicated by the arrival of Richard - whose own marital crisis threatens the party mood.
Williamson doesn't quite manage to fuse all of these elements into a fully satisfying whole. He doesn't seem to know if he wants a political satire, an Australian comedy of manners or a more realistic study of relationships (Neeme's comparison to Chekov in the director's notes seems unduly generous). There are awkward shifts of tone. Attempts at pathos are unconvincing because of their blunt juxtaposition with the predominant witty dialogue and because we don't know enough about these characters.
On Quentin Mitchell's spacious set, which supplies appurtenances of moderate middle-class success, an excellent cast evince a strong and infectious sense of having a good time. They handle Williamson's witty lines with fine timing and the characters' convictions are conveyed with suitable intensity. There are strong central performances by Peter Robinson as Don and Judi Crane as Don's wife, Kath, who react differently to lives of compromise - he more easygoing, she more prone to exasperation.
As their strong-willed and idealistic granddaughter - who allows Williamson to present some hope for the future - young Isha Menon gives a performance of considerable promise in Don Parties On.
The most memorable character from the original play, Cooley, is now reliant on an oxygen mask for emphysema but Len Power skilfully reminds the audience of the audacity of Cooley's sexual bravado and political provocation. Pat Gallagher's Mal is a mouthpiece for the play's central ideas, but Gallagher also effectively presents a character who is an opinionated, self-justifying freeloader.
Despite some weaknesses, there is more to enjoy in Don Parties On than some interstate commentators indicated. The skill of the writer and performers allows the audience a highly amusing look at some of Australia's political, social and generational conflicts.