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Review: The Great Divide at the Ensemble Theatre

Review by Scott Whitmont


Like so many Australians, the average folk of the coast town of Wallis Heads find it hard to make ends meet. Then along comes Australia’s richest woman, property mogul Alex Whittle, who has secret grand plans (in cahoots with the town’s mayor, played by the indomitable John Wood) to buy up Wallis Heads, develop a new golf course and luxury resort, turning it into a playground for the mega-rich.

 

As Alex, Georgie Parker is not the gentle ingenue from the television screen that Australians have come to know and love. Here she is deliciously Machiavellian, blisteringly arrogant, entitled and manipulative. Aiding and abetting Alex (but not always!) is her downtrodden longtime assistant, Grace (Kate Raison), who is understandably fast tiring of her condescension and disrespect. Like Peter Finch in Network, she’s mad as hell and is not going to take it any more.


Alex’s perfect foil and rival is single mother and supermarket shelf-stacker, Penny Pollard, played with gusto and passion by Emma Diaz. Seeing right through Alex’s plans for the town, Penny is determined to stand against her, no matter the personal cost, to keep Wallis Heads affordable and in the hands of the locals. The last thing she wants is for it to turn into another Byron Bay. Whilst fighting ‘the good fight’, she struggles to support the needs of her feisty teenage daughter, Rachel (played by impressive newcomer, Caitlin Burley), often culminating in family battles.


With Alex’s might against her and without resources of her own, can Penny possibly triumph? As Williamson writes, “Just because she’s a pawn of circumstances doesn’t mean that she doesn’t contribute to friends and community or should be tossed aside”. Indeed. Never underestimate the power of the individual to make a difference.


In times when the average Australian cannot afford the cost of a new home, The Great Divide could not be more relevant. Director Mark Kilmurry - as is so often the case with Ensemble Theatre productions - brings the play shining to the stage with intimacy and perfect economy of set (designed by James Browne).


Though admittedly there was not much time between scenes for costume changes, the one small thing that rankled in this production was the fact that Alex and Grace wore the same single outfits throughout the play. It’s somewhat hard to believe that Australia’s richest woman and her offsider would be travelling with only one suit each to wear day after day.

Thankfully, David Williamson has again come out of retirement to provide yet another spotlight on Australian societal inadequacies whilst simultaneously guaranteeing audience entertainment with snappy, witty dialogue. The Great Divide sheds a spotlight on power inequality, greed and privilege in Australia, where money rules but the might of the downtrodden cannot be dismissed.  


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