Emerald City – Griffin Theatre Co
How much has Sydney changed since the image-obsessed '80s? The answer might make you cringe.
There are moments, certain descriptions and attitudes in Emerald City that make it seem like a work of speculative fiction, paying dividends as it comes to pass decades later. Of course, it is not. The work, by David Williamson, does not reside in the future, and its business is not prediction. Rather, it is a brutal satire which sits undeniably in the time period it was conceived. Consequently, enjoyment is tempered by disappointment during this savaging of Sydney and its occupants, mainly because of how little it seems we’ve changed in the intervening years.
Despite, or perhaps because of, how well the text has aged, Lewis has decided against changing the setting; a poppy and synth-laden sound design by Kelly Ryall, a patchy backdrop of Sydney Harbour painted by Ken Done and more than one deafening shirt combine to celebrate the play’s status as a child of the '80s. The characters, too, evoke the period, displaying bastardry and avarice of a calibre that places them firmly at the dawn of the ‘greed is good’ era.
Possibly the best part about Emerald City is that there is absolutely no one to root for: not Colin (Mitchell Butel), a power-hungry screenwriter whose star is not so much fading as sputtering; not Kate (Lucy Bell), his wife, whose stringent morality stretches only as far as the front door; not Elaine (Jennifer Hagan), Colin’s producer, descending a bottomless ladder in order to work her way out of a dry patch; and not Mike (Ben Winspear), an up-and-comer who’s figured out that art is a numbers game and is intent on selling his soul in lieu of creativity and talent. By the time the play begins, redemption is out of the question for any of them, and all that’s left is to watch the hubris pendulum on the backswing.
Curiously, it is Helen (Kelly Paterniti), Mike’s girlfriend, and Malcolm (Gareth Yuen), a merchant banker, who come off as the most honest of the bunch. The openness with which they pursue their particular objectives allows them to seem marginally less despicable than their duplicitous counterparts.
The ensemble is tight and the pace is relentless in this latest production of Emerald City. Despite the new millennium, Williamson’s skewering of Sydneysiders continues to ring true. Judging by conversation overheard just outside the theatre, though — snippets of ‘new diet’, ‘quinoa’ and ‘kale’, outrageous schmoozings and career-based pissing contests disguised as polite conversation — one wonders, after all this time, whether many of Williamson’s targets even know they’ve been hit.