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Review: Emerald City at Southbank Theatre

Review By Anja Bless

David Williamson is one of Australia’s most famous playwrights. 50 years ago was the preview of one of his most celebrated works, Emerald City, and to commemorate the occasion Melbourne Theatre Company is bringing the show back to life.

The first thing you notice in the theatre is the set. Designer Dale Ferguson has draped the sides and diagonal of the stage with a glittering backdrop of beads that dangle high above the actors. On the diagonal the beads are curved upwards into a semi-circle, reminiscent of the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the perfect backdrop to the show all about life in the ‘emerald’ harbour city.

The stage set is also Sydney-esque in its clean, yet lush modernity. Floor to ‘ceiling’ glass windows on two sides of a white framed open box on a rotating stage create a fantastic effect. It’s easy to believe that the characters really are looking out the window of a harbour-side mansion, or strolling back into their ‘lowly’ Paddington terrace. The glass also creates fantastic reflections, used cleverly by lighting designer David Walters during monologues by the characters.

Ferguson’s glitz and glamour for the set unfortunately did not extend as much as you would expect to the costuming. Film producer, Elaine (Marg Downey), was an exception with fantastic 80s power jackets and sequins galore.

Downey was a standout in her performance as well, capturing attention and delivering Elaine’s aloof yet kind nature with ease. The same ease was sadly missing for some of the other performers. Jason Klarwein as Colin often rushed his lines, and stumbled more than once over his dialogue. But when in the throes of Colin’s creative moods Klarwein was quick to make the audience laugh out loud with his well-delivered one-liners.

As a whole the show is very funny. You certainly never find yourself checking your watch for the time as the story moves at rapid fire pace with smooth transitions thanks to the direction of Sam Strong. Although, the stage hand with a bright blue wig is a distracting choice.

Nadine Garner as Kate was also rushed in her delivery at the beginning, her opening lines were almost indiscernible. But as the show went on she warmed into the role, bringing fantastic comedic physicality and deft timing that brought roars of laughter from the audience.

This production of Emerald City hits all the key notes of the script. Garner and Klarwein bring beautiful authenticity and believability to the marriage tensions of creative careerists Colin and Kate. The jokes about Sydney and Melbourne hint to underlying truths of the different faces of Australiana that ring as true today as they did in the 1980’s. Sydney is still the glitzy and superficial cousin of Melbourne, where everyone’s vying for the harbour view and newcomers become quick to argue that exorbitant private school fees are a reasonable return on investment. But underneath the sparkle is a thriving city full of beauty, vulnerability and opportunity. The water is neither azure blue, nor is it brown and murky – it is emerald. Shiny, solid and, at times, burdensome for its residents, yet ever-alluring. Williamson’s capture of its contradictory nature is worth paying tribute to because it shows the truth and like human nature, the true essence of a city never changes.

Image Credit: Jeff Busby

All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.


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