‘Emerald City’ was golden.
Glistening in all shades of crystal glory, Queensland Theatre has staged a captivating rendition of the David Williamson’s classic, ‘Emerald City’. Presented at Queensland Performing Arts Centre (QPAC), the co-production with Melbourne Theatre Company tells of egos, ethics, dreams and deceit, with a vibrant and artsy 1980s Sydney backdrop.
Composed by Williamson in 1987, the script is full of sharp, fast-paced and satirical dialogue. Set in the same decade, the story follows a couple who are lured to the so-called Emerald City of Oz, Sydney. Colin is a successful screenwriter on a creative slow turn and Kate is a persistent publisher on her way up. Together they’re in the right city for fame and fortune, however, many surprises lay in waiting. In turn, they’re tested not only in their relationship but against their beliefs and dreams.
Queensland Theatre’s opening night performance proved to be a momentous occasion for all, with Williamson present in the audience to witness to his own creation. Not only does 2020 mark the 50th anniversary season for Queensland Theatre, but it is also Williamson’s 50th year of storytelling and as Australia’s most produced playwright.
The script itself provides wisecracking comedy and commentary of life in the 80s, even pitting Melbourne against Sydney, which delighted Brisbane audiences. With contemporary themes, ‘Emerald City’ easily cements its relevance through the turns the storyline takes on the road to success. Not to mention, its panoramic viewpoint presents stereotypes of a city prizing beauty over brains. There are plenty of jests within the play that provides many laughs, but the script’s sleuth wit and wordplay can be a lot for audiences to easily digest.
In classic Queensland Theatre style, and just as the show demands, set design and presentation was exceptional. Proving to be masters in design, they once again have crafted a jaw-dropping set that is visually stunning. One only needs to remember some of their previous work, like 2019’s ‘L’Appartement’, to note that there is quite literally nothing the company can’t build on stage. In terms of ‘Emerald City’, set designer Dale Ferguson has crafted chandelier-like crystals to hang magnificently from the theatre’s ceiling. They fall in the shape of curved arches reminiscent of Sydney’s Opera House to successfully establish the infamous capital city.
Underneath this glitzy and glamourous feature, lies a minimalistic framed white box, with varied perspex walls. Constructed on a rotating set, when utilised, players moved and entered various sides with flexibility. This versatile and clever concept mirrored a seemingly current trend for open-plan room and set designs.
This abstract design was further innovated by director Sam Strong, who used the set constraints to his advantage. While the set rotated, actors would enter or exit on different sides of the stage, allowing each scene to move onwards and smoothly transition into the next. At times, actors even played with the inside/outside spaces created by the perspex, thus creating illusions and transporting the audience to outside balconies and streetways or inside dining rooms and lounge rooms with staggering harbour views. There was a complete synergy with the design and directorial elements, which is a testament to professionals at work.
Lighting design by David Walters delivered a vibrant colour palette and some highlight choices that not only brought attention to the crystals above but spotlighted the action as it revolved. Sound designer, Russell Goldsmith, fuelled the 80s sentiments with symbolic and notorious hits of the decade, some of which featured a clear Australian vibe. At times, microphones muffled dialogue happening behind perspex walls, but it was quickly fixed through movement. Costumes were reflective of the era and enhanced such nostalgia with high waisted pants, padded shouldered blazers, denim jeans and leather jackets.
Starring an all-leading cast, the actors worked cohesively and collectively as an ensemble to drive the pace of the show. Guiding the storyline as Colin, Jason Klarwein chased power, money and lust, and was full of idealistic opportunity and wavering thought processes. Although Klarwein was tongue-tied with a few lines here and there, he maintained momentum from one lengthy monologue to the next.
Nadine Garner as Kate was a perfect choice and delivered an uptight, underappreciated and quick-witted wife. Quick to call-out against her husband, Garner had an infectious energy and embodied the role. Contrastingly, Megan Hind was smooth and seductive as the love interest, Helen. The deepness to her tone provided much of a vocal difference to Garner’s highly-strung interpretation, and the audience could sense Colin’s wandering appeal.
Easily a crowd favourite with his comedic one-liners and larrikin performance was Rhys Muldoon as the ambitious yet talent-lacking writer, Mike. Muldoon felt incredibly natural on stage, walking as if he owned it – a quintessential feature of his character. His gruffness eluded to many earnest qualities, despite his character’s deceitfulness towards the end. Rounding out the cast, Ray Chong Nee was demanding and authoritative as the investment banker, Malcolm, and Marg Downey was exceptionally comical as the stylish and dry agent, Elaine.
As the performance drew to a close, Willamson was invited on stage and presented with a bouquet of flowers for his extensive contribution to the arts. It’s evident his play is a relevant critique of a specific time and place. ‘Emerald City’ highlights the cost of fame and artistic integrity. Queensland Theatre has presented a timely piece of decades ago, and to miss this show would leave one green with envy.
‘Emerald City’ performs at the Playhouse, QPAC, until Saturday, 29 February 2020. For tickets, visit the Queensland Theatre’s Website.