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The Great Divide - Ensemble Theatre (NSW)

Written by David Williamson. Directed by Mark Kilmurry

 

Reviewed by Bradley Roe

Ensemble Theatre, Kirribilli

Season 8 March – 27 April 2024


Fantastically entertaining, emotional and truly hilarious, David Williamson's newest play is a risk worth taking for one of Australia's best playwrights

 

David Williamson, one of Australia’s most prolific playwrights, has a knack of shedding light on social injustice with such simplicity that an audience doesn’t realise what he has highlighted until after the curtain has fallen and the concept is planted like a seed. There is such a brilliant ease, humour, and genius to all his work prior to The Great Divide, that this felt like a huge risk for the playwright seeming he came out of retirement to pen it. However, this risk has paid off for the benefit of everyone involved. The Great Divide is a brilliantly written, fabulously portrayed and overall exceptional piece of new Australian theatre.

 

The Great Divide is described by The Ensemble Theatre as ‘a new comedy with wise-cracking commentary on wealth inequality and human greed’. It follows the story of a bitter rivalry that sparks between two women in the idyllic Australian town of Wallis Heads. Penny Poulter, a struggling single mum, who is fighting for preservation and social justice goes toe to toe with the ruthless and immensely wealthy Alex Whittle, who has ambitious plans to put this small town firmly on the tourist map. The women give life to the two extremes of wealth we see in Australia and the world today.


The cast of David Williamson's 'The Great Divide'. Images by Brett Boardman

 

The incredible cast of six showed no weakness on the stage that could easily expose them. Georgie Parker and Emma Diaz were powerhouse leads for the production and took the brilliant new work to new heights. The snappy, witty, and truly ruthless Alex portrayed by Parker took no prisoners with her speedy delivery and commanding presence on stage. It was a true masterclass in how to have the audience both love and hate you at the same time. This was contrasted brilliantly by Diaz’s Penny who in her charming innocence had the entire room rooting for her and her cause. Diaz’s ability to take the audience on this emotional and psychological journey is a credit to her raw talent. 

 

The women are supported beautifully by Caitlyn Burley, who portrayed Penny’s Daughter, Rachel, and Kate Raison playing Alex’s Personal Assistant, Grace. These characters weaved their way through the lives and ambitions of the two leading ladies with such ease, and effect that it was often difficult to know where the chips would land. Burley is one to look out for on Australian stages, the emotional rollercoaster that she took the audience on is a true testament to her ability as an actor. Raison’s Grace was beautifully portrayed and perfectly portrayed. Raison gave a stunning performance that fed an audiences need for revenge, and offered up Australia’s favourite archetype, the underdog.

 

Rounding out this magnificent cast were the iconic John Wood as the corrupt mayor and the incorruptible local newspaper editor Brian, portrayed by James Lugton. Wood was exactly how you expected him to be on the stage, a brilliant presence with intelligent timing, great lines and the ability to command the audience’s attention whilst still being endearing. However, in my opinion Lugton was the funniest person on stage. His dry, underplayed delivery was brilliant contrasting to the exaggerated characters he was surrounded by, and his simple nonchalant portrayal of the editor was clear evidence of this fact.


Parker and Diaz lead a fantastic cast...fantastically entertaining, emotional and truly hilarious!

 

Williamson’s social commentary on the wealth divide, although important, is not blatant and untactful in the way it is written and portrayed, but weaved cleverly through an engaging story of family, small town hopes, wealthy investors and corrupt councils. Set in the here and now, pop culture and social media were used to drive the story in the right direction and didn’t detract from the complexity and sophistication of the play. In my opinion, contemporary plays run the risk of losing an audience when references to TikTok and internet trolls come up, however Williamson’s treatment of these aspects was an audience seeing a true master at work.

 

The Ensemble theatre is a true hub of brilliant Australian talent displaying incredible Australian work, and The Great Divide is no exception. Parker and Diaz lead a fantastic cast through a beautifully penned commentary on the struggles of the housing market, cost of living crisis and The Great Divide we see between the wealthy and the poor. I believe this work is necessary in raising awareness, but still fantastically entertaining, emotional and truly hilarious! Jump to it and see Wallis Heads before Alex changes it forever, or will she?


 

CAST & CREATIVES

DAVID WILLIAMSON. Playwright

MARK KILMURRY Director

JULIA ROBERTSON. Assistant Director

CAITLIN BURLEY. Cast - Rachel Poulter

EMMA DIAZ Cast - Penny Poulter

JAMES LUGTON. Cast - Brian/Joel

GEORGIE PARKER. Cast - Alex Whittle

KATE RAISON. Cast - Grace Delahunty

JOHN WOOD. Cast - Alan Bridger

JAMES BROWNE. Set & Costume Designer

VERONIQUE BENETT. Lighting Designer

DARYL WALLIS. Sound Designer

ERIN SHAW. Stage Manager

ALEXIS WORTHING. Assistant Stage Manager

RENATA BESLIK. Costume Supervisor

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