Let the Sunshine
Melbourne Theatre Company
31 July 2010
Playhouse, the Arts Centre
to 4 September
Let the Sunshine opens with a scruffy, but still attractive, 50-something trying to put an IKEA-like book shelf together. The audience are instantly his. We all know how hard it is to put those shelves in place. When his still-looking-good-but-not-denying-her-age wife comes in and jokes about his Richard Dawkins book and that he buys books that he never reads...well let's just all go home and make sure we have a spot in our Billy bookcases for unread plays by Australian playwrights and famous atheists.
I watched Dawkins on QandA (that's the same as reading isn't it?) and I have a shelf full of plays in my IKEA bookcase (that I assembled all by myself!); I've even read some of them. Ones I read in the 80s, like Don's Party, The Club and The Removalists, still inspire me. David Williamson is one of the reasons I learnt to love theatre. With astute observation and wit, he gave Australian theatre a voice that... Yeah, yeah we all know that Williamson is a national treasure and that his plays are as popular today as they ever were and ensure good box office.
Why? I don't know.
Let the Sunshine (co-produced by the Melbourne and Queensland theatre companies) is the theatrical equivalent of the great Gillard/Abbot political debate on the telly.
Academy Award– nominated documentary maker Toby (Robert Coleby) and his successful lefty-book publisher wife Ros (Jackie Weaver) have moved to Noosa. They are 'friends' with fat (sorry John), racist, homophobic, obscenely wealthy property developer Ron (John Wood) and his wife Natasha (Andrea Moor), who ran a successful fashion boutique for three years until she got bored. Toby and Ron don't get along! And if that isn't enough, their Sydney-living, 30-something offspring come to visit. Emma (Rachel Gordon) is nearly a partner in her law firm (daddy Ron is impressed) but she finds it difficult to be a woman in such a tough environment. Rick (Paul Ashcroft) is a musician but works in a bar because the world hasn't noticed his talent (Toby and Ros think he's a genius). Emma and Rick don't get along either...or do they?
Astute play-goers will recognise the subtle satire about the left and right politics in Australia. They may even understand the joke about Ron and Natasha's John Olsen painting and the follow up Jeffrey Smart joke in Act 2 (when everyone goes back to pretentious old Sydney). Olsen's paintings are wild and organic – like Noosa – and Smart's are all clean and ordered – like Sydney. But everyone who goes to the theatre knows that. These are people who read Crikey and New Matilda (just like Toby) and nudge each other with recognition when silly old Natasha tells Ros that the book club doesn't want to read Geraldine Brooks. I mean who would even go to a book club that doesn't love our Geraldine? And then there's the jibes about Maggie Thatcher editing The Australian and a good lefty can't get through the day without bagging Janet Albrechtsen.
Or there are plenty of jokes about "horrible right wing journalist thugs" and "nanny-state lefties" for people who have trouble putting part A into slot B and don't know the difference between a flat- and a phillips- head screwdriver.
Tell your own story is wonderful advice to any writer – but David, please stop telling us your story. If you don't want to live with the disillusioned ex-hippies and soul-less developers on the Sunshine Coast and you hate Sydney so much, move back to Melbourne. We'll have a bowl of pasta at Ti Amo and head across to La Mama, then you can come over the river to see a Red Stitch show. Probably best that you avoid some of the inner-city suburbs because the developers are destroying them and you'll have to wear thermals if you want to go down the coast... Adelaide maybe? They love you there. Or Perth? It's warm and surely those miners are crying out for a bit of well-crafted wit.
But come on Anne-Marie – it's satire! That thing that makes fun of extremists and the middle class. David is laughing at these people. Perhaps if you read more plays and less Geraldine Brooks, you'd understand.
David may be laughing at, but the audience are laughing with him. The jokes about a monkey in a turban (an Indian cricketer) and "at least it was a bloke" (Emma shagging no-hoper Rick is better than her nuding-up with a woman) get more laughs than the Al Gore joke. These throw away giggles could be removed from the script and make no impact on the story. So why are they there?
This is writing that supports and boosts the status quo. If old Ron is really a good guy at heart, surely there's nothing wrong with a harmless joke about hating Indians and him not wanting his daughter to go carpet munching?
This is the attitude that gives us an election campaign where the left and the right are fighting so hard for the bland middle ground that the debate between our 'leaders' was telecast at 6.30 because they knew it didn't stand a chance against the Masterchef final. And the theatre crowd prefer Masterchef because they laughed at the Tetsuya joke more than the sub-prime one.
And, it was directed by Michael Gow, the man who wrote Away.
This review appeared on AussieTheartre.com.