“I’ve loved to put people in the same room who are obliged to be together, but shouldn’t be together and don’t want to be together”, wrote David Williamson in his program notes for ‘FAMILY VALUES’, adding, “Humans being humans, this inevitably results in drama and comedy.”

This has been Williamson’s recipe for success over 50 years as a playwright, ‘FAMILY VALUES’ being one of his most enjoyable.  This play, Williamson says, will be his last, along with, ‘Crunch Time’, which will play at the Ensemble Theatre in February.

Compliant and conservative retired judge, Roger (Andrew McFarlane), is turning 70.  He and wife Sue (Belinda Giblin), have decided to throw a party and invite immediate family members.  Roger grapples with his party balloons blowing and tying them up in nervous anticipation of the chaos about to unfold.  All he wants is to reminisce. Sue keeps him in line, totally in control. She has spent time as a social worker, thus experiencing a very different view of the world than her husband.  A more empathetic one.

Eldest daughter Lisa (Danielle King) makes a dramatic entrance.  As a divorced advocate for asylum seekers, she has brought Saba (Sabryna Walters) – a young Iranian girl, Medevac’d from Nauru after suicide attempts and now on the run from Border Protection – with her.

When Lisa insists her father give her the keys to their holiday house to hide Saba, Roger is horrified about harbouring an illegal refugee and refuses.  Sue is far more concerned about Saba’s well being and defends them.

Next to arrive with great enthusiasm is son Michael (Jamie Oxenbould), a lego nerd misfit as a child, now divorced and a recent convert to Christianity via the Hillsong Church.  Lisa covers for Saba by telling Michael that they are an item and keeping it quiet at the moment. 

Just as Michael is disapproving of two sisters being gay, his younger sister, Emily (Ella Prince) arrives with her very dominating fiancee, Noelene (Bishanyia Vincent), who the family clearly don’t want in their lives.  Emily works for Border Force and Noelene is the captain of a Border Force ship.

Desperate accusations of childhood favouritism and “you broke my toy” run rampant, quite disturbing for Roger and Sue, and political and moral allegiances are passionately challenged.  

We hear Saba’s voice asking for the shouting to stop.  There is a welcome silence where Saba gives us a tearful and moving monologue about the truth and horror she has been through under the callous, cruel and sexually offensive Border Protection Officers.

This subject is very close to Williamson’s heart and there is an underlying plea for us not to ignore our faults but to become a more civilised country.

He does give hope and positive strength to the end of his play.

The actors are all strong with appealing contrast, they work off each other brilliantly, under the highly experienced and instinctive direction of Lee LewisBelinda Giblin brings great humour and strength to the play. Andrew McFarlane is gentle and very likeable. The children are eccentric and captivating, Bishanyia Vincent is very funny in her stoic inflexible character.  Sabryna Walters is fabulous as the sensitive, good humoured Saba.

The set design by Sophie Fletcher is spot on.  The hint of affluence and fine taste in the ornamental white staircase,  the very elegant dining room table and the expensive bottles of wine, including the $1,000 bottle of red that Noelene insists on opening.  Benjamin Brockman’s Lighting and Steve Francis’ Sound enhance the production.

‘FAMILY VALUES’ is a fast moving, stimulating and enjoyable play.  Highly recommended. It plays at the SBW Stables Theatre until the 7th of March, 2020.

Featured image : Bishanyia Vincent, Sabryna Walters and Danielle King in ‘Family Values’ at the Stables Theatre. Pic Brett Boardman