By Lisa Lanzi
“Football shits me” says Geoff (Louisa Mignone) - and on many levels, I feel the same way. After growing up in a ‘ball-obsessed’ family in Sydney and witnessing over the years some disgusting behaviour from those associated with AFL and ‘thugby’, be they players, administrators or audience, my scepticism prevails.
Written in 1977, Williamson’s The Club is both comedic and vicious, sardonic and satirical. It has been programmed by many companies, both professional and amateur, and was brought to the screen by Bruce Beresford in 1980, but this is the first production featuring women in the male roles. Moreover, three women play six roles in this fast-paced co-production by isthisyours? and Insite Arts and presented by State Theatre Company and KOJO with considered direction by Tessa Leong.
Swapping women into the male personas casts a different light on the dialogue and attitudes in this play. The lines as uttered by males are perfectly ugly, misogynistic, racist, selfish and privileged even within the intentional sarcasm. The same words delivered by females in male guise are transformed into high farce and the viewpoints become more bitingly cynical. However skilled the performers are vocally and physically (and they are brilliantly skilful), in THIS production the inherent lightness of the female voice and stance somehow underlines the hideousness behind the meaning. One scene was particularly memorable for this: Ted (Nadia Rossi) talks about slapping a woman, his mates point out that he actually punched her with closed fists, and Ted continues to own yet downplay his actions because she ‘led him on’.
standout for me was indeed the physicality that the three women brought to their roles and the subtle bodily differences each actor gifted to their double characters, sometimes in the same scene! All the women brought their own flavour to the ‘man-spreading’ pose but Ellen Steele’s Bouffon-style gaits for Laurie and Danny was a winner. Nadia Rossi had to deal with a considerable prosthetic belly as she adeptly took on the ghastly and entitled Ted and Jock in a pair of truly awful trousers. For Gerry and Geoff, Louisa Mignone portrayed a lanky and confident machismo, at times simply amusing and at others underscoring the standover tactics some men bring to bear.
Similarly, the vocal dexterity demonstrated by the actors was truly wonderful. Each woman successfully juggled distinct tonal and cadence shifts as they bounced from one character to the next. We also got the east coast accent that Adelaideans find so amusing. It certainly took me back to my south Sydney roots.
As part of the character shifting within a scene we were treated to hilarious moments with wigs. In the first scene Ellen Steele zoomed from one end of the table to the other to represent Laurie the coach and Danny the player. As she left one persona Steele would ‘duck’ from beneath the wig leaving it suspended from a long wire clipped to the hair and skim into the alternative wig, also suspended. The unlikely trope succeeded because of the absurd, knockabout humour and the unabashed way other characters in the scene reacted to the swap. The first few wig changes were a little disconcerting but the audience very soon accepted the elegant convention and it gave us that delicious sense of farce.
The set and costuming are a brilliant component of this production. Renate Henschke is responsible for the typical 1970s styling, complete with Besser block walling and vintage furniture and props. Costumes are also perfect for the time with quite a few surprises in the second act. The scene change for act two is a wonderful addition as we progress through to the more weird and absurd aspects of the storyline and this reading of The Club. There are two inflatable costumes (no spoilers here!) that make an appearance in this version which match with the hyper-reality of one scene where marijuana is involved and the unfolding course of the narrative.
Also in act two, we morph from 1977 to 2019 and back as at times the women who play ‘men’ become women in the roles of men by virtue of slight costume alteration and lipstick application, The inference references more recent events in AFL and in particular women’s AFL - think the malicious trolling of Tayla Harris’ kick photo. Even using the exact words penned by Williamson, the impact of females uttering them is believable and a little disturbing. There is much to think on here and I hope many discussions ensue amongst the audiences to come during this season.
Tessa Leong’s interpretation of The Club is inspired and the actors from isthisyours? are phenomenal. Even more, I applaud this all-female production of an entrenched, male-oriented theatre work. Let us have more opportunities to help in addressing the lack of work for female actors universally.
Photo Credit: Chris Herzfeld
All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.