A football club is collapsing under its own petty politics and incompetency. All the boys want the power and the glory but none of them have any idea about the work involved. David Williamson’s 1977 script is a precise representation of masculinity behind closed doors and the many pitfalls of the “every man for himself” mentality of hyper-masculine spaces. This reimagining from isthisyours? distills the drama to three female actors in an examination of the classic some 40 years later.
It starts out as a send-up of one of Australia’s most well-known plays where the powerhouses of masculinity, the players, coaches, and board members of a football club, become interchangeable. The actors swap between wigs dangling from the ceiling to become wobbling and hysterical versions of their great male facades. It’s farcical and absurd, drawing attention to the transparency of these characters’ self-interest and shallow interests. The joke is that these are powerful men being played by, or even caricatured by, people who are routinely denied the same power and it’s a joke not unfamiliar, so it wore thin throughout the first half of performance.
The second half is where things became truly absurd. A combination of inflatable penis suits, rapid costume changes changing from traditionally feminine to masculine with indiscretion, and the insertion of recognisable personalities from the modern day football corporate made the drama both more pointed and a bit more convoluted.
Ellen Steele, Jude Henshall, and Louisa Mignone are marvellous as a trio. Their physical humour in hair flicks, shivering jowls, and high leg-leans heightened a quick wit and excellent control of the text. When motivations veered into unfollowable territory, they never wavered or seemed to lose commitment which was accordingly rewarded with audience support. These three women, particularly Henshall’s spittley South African Jock, are truly funny and the prospect of seeing them in less misogynistic circumstances is exciting.
The Club is about hyper-masculinity and hypocrisy but it does very little to interrogate or challenge either phenomenon. The men are misogynistic, homophobic, racist, and selfish. In a way, it’s a script of its time but in more ways it still rings true today. At one point, the characters become real men, namely Eddie Maguire and Barry Hall; men who have been recorded on radio making violent and misogynistic comments about women on more than one occasion. To have them standing on stage, wearing White Ribbons, and discussing withdrawing support for a man who assaulted a woman was a pointed jab at the hypocrisy of performative respect for women and it landed.
However, this moment stands relatively alone in its clarity of intention. Not many people nowadays view Williamson’s play as feminist or progressive; the problems are far from subtle and it often felt like director Tessa Leong was attempting to pull apart every questionable aspect of the original script. Masculine power is made ridiculous and hysterical, hyper-masculinity is literally inflated into phallic imagery, corporate men are compared to working women, the list goes on. The reimagining is funny and it takes aim at serious problems in satirical and farcical ways but perhaps the added ideas are more astute in concept than execution.
isthisyours? present a unique and imaginative conversation with David Williamson’s the Club in an adamant attempt to challenge how we stage and consume classic theatre. Faithful renditions of historic pieces are not enough anymore and this is them telling you why.
David Williamson’s The Club (An all-female, 3 actor version) is playing at Belvoir’s Downstairs Theatre from December 7th – 22nd.