By Paul Kiely
Laurence Coy and Lloyd Allison-Young. Photo © Bob Seary for New Theatre
By David Williamson
Directed by Johann Walraven
A New Theatre Production
542 King Street
Season: 20 April – 22 May 2021. Bookings: www.newtheatre.org.au Duration: 90 No interval
It’s not often that a dramatic play comes along that so generously pays out the trifecta to the audience.
The New Theatre’s production of The Removalists does this in spades. With an outstanding script, flawless acting and incisive direction, the audience has no choice but to return home fully satisfied!
Written by David Williamson in the early 1970’s, The Removalists hit a nerve with Australians as it deals with domestic violence, drunkenness, police brutality and morality. One reason for its success is the subtle use of humour and shock to prompt the audience to squirm in their seats.
There are two simple settings in the story: a police station in Melbourne and a nearby apartment. It begins with Sergeant Simmonds completing a crossword puzzle whilst his brand-new rookie Constable Ross stands nervously nearby awaiting instructions.
Finally, after a long silence, Simmonds quizzes Ross about his father’s occupation. The conversation is awkward and sets the power dominance of the police hierarchy. The young constable listens to gems of wisdom such as “Stuff the rule book up your arse”; “there are two types of policemen, bums and very smart men”; and if you do not adapt to police ways “you’ll stagger through life like a blind man in a brothel”. This is the Police mentoring program a la 1970’s.
Two sisters, Kate and Fiona, enter the Police Station to report Fiona’s husband Kenny for beating her up. Sergeant Simmonds sees this as an ideal learning experience for Constable Ross and therefore attempts to assign the case to him. Insulted by this apparent disregard for the importance of their matter, Kate objects strongly enough to force Simmonds to take charge. Sergeant Simmonds later tells Ross that there may be sexual favours from the sisters for both.
Sergeant Simmonds agrees to help Fiona get her furniture out of the apartment before attending to arrest Kenny for assault. A removalist has been arranged but he arrives when Kenny is home.
The story moves fast from here and involves the heavy hand of the Sergeant and Constable. With the threat of violence from the Police to Kenny, Kenny to the Police, Kenny to Fiona, Kenny to Kate and Kenny to the Removalist, the tension heightens greatly.
With a believable and realistic plot, what ensues gets uncomfortable to watch. Our view of justice, morality, ethics and fairness are twisted as we sympathise with a perpetrator who becomes a victim.
There is a fine cast in this production. Leading the way as Sergeant Simmonds is Laurence Coy. What a convincing portrayal. With his stocky build, trusting yet sinister facial expressions and powerful body language, he plays the racist and chauvinistic sergeant with worrying ease.
Lloyd Allison-Young plays Constable Ross. His presence and demeanour capture the initial innocence of the character. His frenzy later in the play is spellbinding.
In the role of Fiona, the beaten wife, is Eliza Nicholls. Her portrayal of a woman suffering verbal and physical abuse is cogent.
Fiona’s well to do sister Kate is ably performed by Shannon Ryan. Kate is the antithesis of her sister; confident, strong and no-nonsense. Shannon brings these traits to a character that can stand up to Sergeant Shannon’s misogyny.
Playing Kenny is Alfie Gledhill. Alfie expresses the essence of this character so well. Knock-about Kenny is a rogue wife-beater, drunk in his own self-loathing. And yet, in the end Alfie can engender audience sympathy with his character. Full marks too, for the cold baked bean sandwich scene!
Finally, there is Rob The Removalist: the archetype Aussie larrikin. He is hard working but does not really give a stuff about what is happening around him if it does not affect his activities. After all, he’s “got fifty thousand dollars’ worth of machinery ticking over out there”. Xavier Coy shines in this role as he demonstrates the art of indifference to the suffering of others.
A good play is nothing without a good director. Johann Walraven and his creative team have excelled. The sets are simple but effective; the costumes appropriate for the story; the fight scenes are vigorous whilst the intimacy scenes are discreet.
I liked how the police station and apartment sets remained on stage together. Moments of police brutality occurring in the shadow of the justice system jolt the audience to reflect on present and past failings in law-enforcement.
If you find yourself laughing uncomfortably in confronting scenes, you are a victim of Williamson’s talent to unnerve the audience. There is a lot to take from The Removalists.
Although written 50 years ago it is still a contemporary and riveting story.