It’s been more than 40 years since David Williamson’s The Club premiered in Melbourne. The sharply-written satire is said to have been inspired by the goings-on behind the scenes at one of the AFL’s highest profile clubs.
In 1977, The Club arrived at Belvoir and four decades on, Williamson’s classic has returned in a new production by Adelaide-based independent theatre company isthisyours? It concludes Belvoir’s inaugural 25A season and it’s taking the stage at a time when women now play in their own league (having begun with eight teams in 2017, the AFLW will expand to encompass 14 teams by 2020.)
Generally, The Club calls for an all-male cast, but that’s not the case here. Directed by Tessa Leong, the new staging sees all characters played by an all-female cast of three. It tells the story of a club on the cusp of change. The familiar players are all there, including the new recruit lured to the club by a lucrative salary, the club’s coach who’s long been respected but isn’t producing results, and the former coach and committeeman intent on getting rid of the current coach for the purpose of ensuring his own ‘most games coached’ record remains intact.
As it did at the time it was penned by Williamson, isthisyours?’ iteration of The Club endeavours to forefront the contemporary attitudes of Australians to a range of issues, including domestic violence and homophobia. It examines the power struggles, the shameless manipulation and the personal agenda-driven action that remains part and parcel with professional sport. While four decades have come and gone since The Club’s first outing, how much has really changed? Women may play a more conspicuous role in sport, but do the background machinations of boardrooms and locker rooms feel all that foreign to us in 2018?
Isthisyours? has revived The Club in a production that is very entertaining, skilfully performed and succeeds in provoking a reflection on general attitudes in Australian society. Actors Jude Henshall, Louisa Mignone and Ellen Steele all demonstrate impressive dexterity stepping into the shoes of the men of ‘the club’. Their obvious comedic skills ensure this production offers audiences a genuine laugh-out-loud experience, and while their portrayal of characters may be caricatured, it doesn’t detract from the text and the conversation it seeks to promote. Traversing the stage and donning different wigs to play multiple characters in a single scene, their talent is clear (though it does become slightly confusing in the second act when actors begin to assume roles previously performed by another cast member, but the point being that these roles become part of a revolving door scenario, where it doesn’t matter who is who).
Leong’s direction ensures the right pace is maintained from start to finish and has made good use of the intimate Downstairs Theatre. Even the choice of pre-show and interval music – a range of club songs and well-known AFL anthems (including ‘Up There Cazaly’ and Chris Doheny’s ‘More Than a Game’) is a nice touch.
The Club, in its latest guise care of Isthisyours?, gives us much to laugh about and shake our heads at with respect to the past, but it also importantly reminds us of those behaviours that remain intrinsically linked to our contemporary culture – and particularly sporting culture. While our cynicism may have been heightened, too much of The Club feels too much like the here and now.
THE CLUB – SEASON DETAILS
Dates: Playing now until 22 December 2018
Venue: Downstairs Theatre, Belvoir (25 Belvoir Street, Surry Hills)
Tickets: belvoir.com.au or by phone on 02 9699 3444
For details of The Club’s 2019 Adelaide season, click here