Save articles for later

Add articles to your saved list and come back to them any time.

Australian playwright David Williamson has come out of retirement to write a new play, The Great Divide, which leads Ensemble Theatre’s 2024 season.

Williamson, who has written more than 50 plays over 50 years, including The Club, Don’s Party and Emerald City, retired three years ago at the age of 78.

The first new play from theatre legend David Williamson since 2020 will premiere at Ensemble Theatre in 2024.Credit: Robert Catto

In 2020, he spoke about his plans to retire to tackle ongoing health concerns and to make space for new voices. That year, two new plays by Williamson were produced on Sydney theatre stages (Family Values at Griffin Theatre Company; Crunch Time at Ensemble).

“I felt the urge to write again,” Williamson says. “I had a burst of activity. I couldn’t be stopped.

“I enjoy the feeling of creating something that good actors and a good director then bring to life, and seeing an audience appreciating that. It’s sort of an addiction.”

Crunch Time, starring Diane Craig and John Wood, was the last new Williamson play to premiere at Ensemble.Credit: Prudence Upton

The Great Divide opens in March, and will be directed by Ensemble artistic director Mark Kilmurry and star Georgie Parker (All Saints). It’s a social satire about economic equality in Australia which follows a single mother fighting against a wealthy developer’s gentrification of her sleepy coastal town.

Williamson says he was inspired to write the play by the lack of discussion in theatre and in the media about class and economic inequality.

“We pretend we’re an egalitarian society, but the reality of the Australia we live in now is that it is one of the most unequal developed countries in the world,” he says. “And our drama just doesn’t address that … I felt a bit of anger about that. I thought it’s time that I had a look at just what sort of country Australia has become.

“Our tax system has been engineered by conservative governments, with the sole aim of making the rich richer and the very rich much, much richer … This facile belief that if we let the rich get hugely rich, then it’ll all trickle down to us has been shown for the last 30 years to be really pathetic economics that doesn’t happen.”

Kilmurry was thrilled when Williamson came to him with a new play: “A new David Williamson is a joy because we know people come and see it, but also it’s always really interesting to see what his take is on where Australia is at the moment.”

Ensemble artistic director Mark Kilmurry was thrilled to hear Williamson was writing again.Credit: Edwina Pickles

Ensemble’s 2024 season also includes a new play by Melanie Tait (The Appleton Ladies’ Potato Race) about Marion Crawford, Queen Elizabeth II’s childhood nanny; a comedy by Sam O’Sullivan (Boxing Day BBQ) loosely inspired by the wave of “teal” independents; and the Sydney premiere of the late Aidan Fennessy’s The Heartbreak Choir.

Six of the 10 plays in the season are Australian works, including Joanna Murray-Smith’s new adaptation of Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya, and four are world premieres.

“People love seeing their own stories on stage,” says Kilmurry. “The Australian works that we do are top of our hit list. They sell really, really well.”

While the season has a strong proportion of Australian works, it does not feature any writing by people of colour, part of a wider issue of representation that the industry has been working to address in recent years.

Kilmurry says there are culturally diverse plays in development at Ensemble, and points to recent commissions from people of colour, including Vanessa Bates’ The One and Brittanie Shipway’s A Letter for Molly, both of which premiered in 2022.

Shan Ree-Tan and Angie Diaz starred in Vanessa Bates’ 2022 play The One at Ensemble Theatre.Credit: Prudence Upton

“We are always aware and encourage cultural diversity not just in the plays, but in all sorts of other areas, including casting,” he says. “That’s what we’re always trying to do, and do as much as we can.”

Kilmurry says the major challenge facing Australian theatre remains encouraging audiences to return post-pandemic.

“[Ticket sales are] creeping back up pretty slowly,” he says. “Habits have changed over the COVID years: people are staying in more, they tend to be going to more popular things that they know, but are not perhaps taking risks.”

And a new David Williamson play is certain to be popular. The playwright suggests that it can be a struggle to get people into the theatre because of the ease of access to quality TV drama at home.

“Theatre is up against it because there is good drama available writ large in your living room,” he explains. “You’ve got to provide something pretty special for them to come away from that screen.”

The Booklist is a weekly newsletter for book lovers from books editor Jason Steger. Get it delivered every Friday.

Most Viewed in Culture

From our partners

Source: Read Full Article