Above: Aileen Huynh as Celia and Claudia Barrie as Vicki . Below: Jeremy Waters as Rohan and Ben Wood as Rolly. Photos: Sophie Withers
The Big Time
By David Williamson
Directed by Mark Kilmurry
An Ensemble Theatre Production
78 McDougall street
Season: 18 January – 16 March. Bookings: (02) 9929 0644 or https://boxoffice.ensemble.com.au
Most theatre plays attempt to examine the human dimension in some way: our cleverness, our generosity, our frailties or perhaps our evil side. It’s rare though to get an insider view of the characters and inner workings within the entertainment industry itself.
David Williamson’s The Big Time succeeds brilliantly in lifting the lid on what goes on, who the main players are, and how the lure of power and success can break the sincere and proper intentions of hard-working people.
This play has all the ingredients of a riveting good yarn: jealousy, envy, hatred, revenge, power, pride and ambition. Furthermore, the setting is Sydney so us locals can take comfort knowing that the industry is in the hands of fine, upstanding citizens!
The story centres around two friends, Vicki Fielding (Claudia Barrie) and Celia Constanti (Aileen Huynh), both professional actors whose careers went on separate paths after finishing at NIDA many years ago. Vicki feels she has come off second best. She defends her choice of becoming a ‘theatrical actor’, choosing quality roles in smaller independent theatres with the accompanying lowly paid lifestyle.
Celia, on the other hand, always seemed to shine and secured lucrative roles in more popular media outlets. Vicki comments that Celia is wasting her talents in ‘soapies’, whereas Celia prides her achievement of longevity in a ‘Continuing Drama Series’. And she has the Logie to prove it.
The relationship seems friendly at first, but Vicki is Machiavellian in her plans to bring Celia down a few pegs. She hints that she may have a chance to direct a major Australian feature film and she wants Celia as the leading lady opposite Hugh Jackman. Now the seed is planted!
After discussing this with her partner Rohan Black (Jeremy Waters), Celia (along with her agent Nellie Browne (Zoe Carides)), become ecstatic at the prospect of getting this role. And why not? Vicki has basically guaranteed that Celia has got the role, subject to a screen test, and no one else is being considered. Or are they?
In the background, Rohan is a scriptwriter and is very conscious that he is living off the success of Celia. He had accolades 15 years ago but has since struggled finding regular, meaningful opportunities. Finally, he has a chance to pitch a new idea to Nate Macklin (Matt Minto), the powerful Producer with links to Netflix, who can make or break people’s careers.
We also meet Rolly Pierce (Ben Wood), the old school chum of Rohan. He’s going through a bad patch with a marriage breakdown, job losses and a pregnant, unattached daughter. He’s making ends meet by driving Uber for $600 a week. Rohan is disinterested and fails to see that Rolly holds his future in his hands. You see, Rolly overheard a conversation on a train which hatched the concept in his mind for a television series. He has written his ideas on bits of scrappy paper and asked Rohan to review it for him and see if the idea has traction. But will Rohan read it?
The plot thickens, it twists and turns and there are plenty of dramatic and comedic moments to enjoy.
David Williamson has created a fabulous script filled with local colloquialisms and imagery. This is the fodder for Director Mark Kilmurry to build upon. His creative team give the audience an inviting and versatile set. A simple bench, partition, coffee table and chairs are fixtures as we move from café to gym to lobby to kitchen to bar and to lounge room. Seamless transitions help to provide a good pace for this show.
All the characters are superbly cast. One wonders if they are acting at all, given the convincing authenticity of everyone. Their zeal, timing and commanding stage presence made them realistic and likable to the audience.
The play is very much Sydney. The characters speak as we do. As Rohan tries to win back Celia, he says “we like the same movies, we laugh at the same jokes and we hate the same people”. Goodness with a touch of nastiness.
There are numerous references to suburban locations and our obsession with everything ‘real estate’: Celia has harbour views and two investment properties, whilst Rolly’s wife left him for the real estate agent that sold them their home. And Bunnings is an unwitting hero as they later provide the perfect employment scenario for struggling Rolly.
I also note that Williamson has not used sexual favours in the plot as a means for female characters to secure career advancement. This helps to make The Big Time a truly contemporary, 21st century Australian masterpiece.
This Ensemble Theatre production of The Big Time is first class. A thoroughly enjoyable experience to the very last sentence.