There’s a favourite Cat Stevens song that goes ‘Oh baby, it’s a wild world/you can’t get by just upon a smile, girl’. The song was going around in my head more than little as I watched this latest David Williamson play, THE BIG TIME.

The great man’s subject is the entertainment industry, a world which he has inhabited for nigh on fifty years. How true Williamson’s program note is when he says, ‘I know that in the industry that creates fictional drama, that real life drama can be intense.’

Williamson is an ever astute observer of relationships and  this is the engine which drives THE BIG TIME. We see the very fractured relationship of Celia and Vicki, two girls who went through NIDA together and whose careers have taken them off in very different directions.

Vicki is doing a lots of independent theatre gifs, whilst Celia has had a long standing role in a soapie, or as she calls it ‘a continuing drama series’. Whenever the girls meet for a cuppa Vicki baits Celia to leave the soapie and do some serious acting. After all, she was the star student at NIDA. Celia is a little torn, she would like to venture out but she loves the regular pay cheque she receives.

Things come to a head in their relationship when Vicki gets the gig to direct a new cutting edge film. Vicki puts up Celia’s name as the actress best suited to the producer, Nate. Nate isn’t so sure, but Vicki twists his arm by saying that Celia will do a screen test for the role and this will allay any of his doubts. Word gets back to agent Nelli.

Nelli brings Celia into her office and tells her that she is a sure thing to get the role and finally get out of being typecast as that soapie actress. Celia is very excited, she tells her partner Rohan and this starts them talking about marriage and bringing up a baby. Doubts still linger for Celia, as she has been let down by Vicki in the past…something about the competitiveness between them…and she is wary that this might be another opportunity for Vicki to disappoint her again…

THE BIG TIME ran for two hours with a 20 minute interval with the interest never flagging. I feel that it ranks as one of Williamson’s better later works. It is a world he knows so well, and that’s so often where the best writing comes from.

Mark Killmurry’s direction was fast paced, keeping the audience engaged with very tight ‘editing’ between scenes. Performances were first class. Claudia Barrie gave an incisive performance as the rather vile ‘beware, she is an ambitious woman’ Vicki. At one point Vicki is described as ‘coming into this world hostile and has remained so ever since.’ Aileen Huynh showed some nice touches as the much more sympathetic and sensitive Celia.

Jeremy Waters played her writer partner Rohan who felt very uneasy about not contributing equally to  the financial aspect of their relationship as he hasn’t had a proper writing gig for some 15 years.Ben Wood added a lot of light touches as Rohan’s garrulous, luckless, hard done by mate back from school days Rolly who decides that he is a bit of a writer and gives him a very quirky script based on an overheard conversation on public transport to read. Williamson  explores the friendship between them in less than flattering terms with Rohan’s ego getting the better of him at times and not doing the right thing by his mate.

Zoe Carides was convincing as warm, even tempered theatrical agent Nelli who had both girls on her books.  Matt Munro played no nonsense, hard edged producer Nate who came up with such lines as those spoken to Rohan ‘if you don’t command respect don’t demand it’.  

Melanie Liertz’s set design was suitably compact for the small Ensemble stage. A bar area with bar stools was a feature, the main stage area was uncluttered except for a chair at the  front of the stage. There was a small table and chairs set adjacent to some front row seats.. Liertz’s costume design was appropriate from suited producer Nate to Nelli’s casual coloured silk pants.

Nicholas Higgins lit the actors well. Marc Ee’s soundscape featured some nice touches, complementing the play’s narrative.

Recommended, David Williamson’s THE BIG TIME is playing the Ensemble Theatre, 78 McDougall Street, Kirribilli until the 16th March, 2019.