Theatre review: Cairns Little Theatre presents David Williamson's The Removalists
The Removalists is a David Williamson play written in 1971 and was the playwright's breakthrough work.
A shocking piece of theatre, it was meant to show Australia to Australians for the first time, and featured police corruption and violence, domestic violence, adultery and a patriarchal coarseness and belittlement of women that is still hard to stomach.
It is a difficult play to produce and perform, with rather more dangerous elements than the more civilised Australia portrayed in Travelling North, the production of which for Cairns Little Theatre in 2010 was a great success.
The Removalists uses coarse language, parts of the body, sexual innuendo and it is meant to portray a true bogan Australia, as well as the hypocrisy of the so-called middle classes.
Today the play is still shocking, and at times, we might be relieved in thinking the characters are walking cliches of a bygone era.
I imagine the comedy is meant to alleviate the horror of the characters rather than obliterate it.
However, in Cairns Little Theatre’s treatment of the play, the true shock value seems to miss the mark, with the cast playing it for laughs, or perhaps it was the rather raucous audience on opening night that missed the play’s depth.
It is a black comedy, and I think Williamson must have meant the comedy moments to relieve the tension in what would otherwise be a very serious play that might very well make an audience reel in disgust.
It was a pretty awful mirror to hold up to 1970s Australia.
The first half of The Removalists at the Rondo worked well as the set-up, based on which the rest of the action takes place.
Wayne Hogan as the jaded sergeant heading a station in North Fitzroy is excellent with his characterisation, and well manages the comic elements, carefully balancing and changing the vibe of relaxed comedy as he builds his verbal threats and physical intimidation of the young officer, while Dudley Powell as Constable Ross shows well the nervousness and naivete of his role.
In the second act, the action becomes looser.
Adam Libke is strong as Kenny, the violent husband, and all the cast members perform well, but the overall dynamic is uneven, with the action dragging and ill-timed despite its dramatic nature.
I also felt the play should become much darker in the second act, but disconcertingly the audience was laughing too hard at things I didn’t`think were meant to be funny.
Fiona’s husband Kenny might deserve a bashing but we know the sergeant is no angel, it’s not his job to do it and it’s hardly something to laugh at.
For the male chauvinistic parts too, it was difficult to see the funny side – maybe it’s because the play is dated, but I suspect it’s not supposed to be slap-stick funny, so the cast might need to pull back on the comic elements and up the ante on the violence for the play to have its full and true impact.
Cairns Little Theatre’s The Removalists is certainly a thought-provoking play, bringing an Australia we might not want to see to life.
>> Review by Denise Carter. Cairns Little Theatre presents David Williamson’s The Removalists at The Rondo Theatre nightly at 8pm until July 7. Tickets from ticketlink.com.au or 1300 855 835.
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Hard-hitting: a scene from David Williamson's The Removalists. Picture: Paul Barton.