A new David Williamson play is always an event! This year, thus far, the Ensemble Theatre has already produced a new Williamson, ‘Operator’, in which the playwright’s son Rory played the main role of Jake, a ruthless young businessman. Now at one of Sydney’s premiere venues, the Drama Theatre at the Sydney Opera House, the Sydney Theatre Company is presenting another new Williamson piece, ‘Influence’.
In ‘Influence’ John Waters plays Ziggi Blasco, a high rating Sydney talk back radio DJ who is courted by politicians and public figures, a man who has the ability to influence public opinion with his hard line views on everything from terrorism to political correctness. His private life is different, he is a man who is finding his power, his sphere of influence, is waning. His relationship with his wife is strained and his adolescent daughter is a bit of a mess. Then there’s just the small issue of personal hypocrisy, Ziggy rants and raves on his radio program about there not being such a thing as the working poor and yet his very housekeeper is a struggling migrant woman trying to keep her family together. Will Ziggi be able to keep the contradictions in his life from destroying him?!
‘Influence’ was a typical Williamson play, flowing over with contemporary issues. Here’s just a list that I made on the run…The play looks at the world of talkback radio…political correctness…the racial tensions…the rise of Muslim extremism, the Serb/Croation and East versus West conflict…the Israel/Palestine conflict…psychology, in particular theories on depression and a psychological term called self stereotyping. It was heady stuff and there was of-course Williamson’s trademark one-liners.
John Waters played the lead, Ziggi Blasco. It’s an excellent part and Waters does it justice. He gives a credible, strong performance as troubled Ziggi, and transverses his characters’ public and private worlds effortlessly. When he does his schtick in his recording studio , swinging between callers, one really believes that he is one of the talkback emperors of the airwaves.
Zoe Carides has the most difficult role as Ziggy’s Turkish/Muslim housekeeper. She does well and manages to imbue a role that could have fallen so easily into dull stereotype with grace and dignity. Her strongest scene is when her character gets to tell Ziggy’s father to turn off the radio in the living room because she finds Ziggy’s vitriolic racist remark’s offensive.
David Williamson also gave veteran actor Edwin Hodgemann a difficult role. Hodgemann played Ziggi’s Dad who comes to stay for a time with his son. He is a veteran of the second world war and during the play reveals a dark past. Hodgemann manages to encompass the fine balancing act in terms of sentiment that the part requires. Williamson makes use of the contrast between father and son. Ziggy’s Dad’s worked all his life as a concreter to support his family whilst Ziggy makes a motza out of shit stirring on the airwaves.
Genevieve Hegney gets the next best role as Ziggi’s wife, and also gives a strong performance. Hegney goes to town with her character. She plays an egocentric, impatient, wilful woman, some might say a perfect match for her equally egocentric husband. During the course of the play we see her endeavouring to salvage her brilliant career as a ballerina that she was forced to give up. Further reiterating this characters’ journey, Lawrence Eastwood’s set includes an exquisite ‘photo’ of her as a ballerina in the prime of her career.
Vanessa Downing plays the part of Ziggy’s psychologist sister. She’s fine in a role that doesn’t give her much range. Her character spends most of the play being a pacifier, trying to ease family tensions, and trying to explain clinical behaviours. Octavia Barron-Martin has a juicier role as Ziggy’s wayward teenage daughter. There’s plenty of range here…at one moment her character is in the midst of turbulent adolescent depression and those nobody love me blues and then in the next moment she is in top of the world telling her father how to invest his money. Yes she’s bi-polar girl…I think Andrew Tighe was hard done by in his role of minder Tony… his only defining trait was his weird presence.
About the production values. Bruce Myles direction was fast paced and tight. I liked Myles’s work with set designer Laurence Eastwood in creating smooth transitions between Ziggy’s public and private worlds. In the background was Ziggy’s recording studio, in the foreground Ziggy’s family home. Eastwood set was outstanding with Ziggy’s ultra modern, recording studio dominating the stage. Paul Charlier’s sound design suited the piece well.
The Sydney Theatre Company have already advised that they are extending the play’s season. It would appear that they have another Williamson hit on their hands. This was stimulating, entertaining theatre.