Don’s Party

‘Don’s Party’ is probably David Williamson’s most successful play. This 1971 play is set during the 1969 Australian federal election, with a group of friends having a celebratory party.  It opened in August 1971 at The Pram Factory theatre in Carlton. Williamson wrote a different script for the 1976 bawdy cinema version which was bankrolled by radio personality Phillip Adams – in today’s money – the film grossed $6,500,000. Bruce Beresford directed it.

This Australian Classic is being presented by the students of the new and innovative Murdoch University unit EGL353, which covers Acting and Producing for Stage. Less than half the play’s actors are theatre students, with many of the others never having been on stage before. This course allows students in completely different fields to tread the boards and see how their specialty can be adapted or improved. The non-theatre actors included creative writers, scriptwriters, computer games designer, forensic scientist, and a dress designer. Being part of the action in this well-thought-out unit helps them think laterally and experience for themselves what really works and what is mediocre.

This 2-hour play for adults can be seen for 4 performances only. Curtain-up is on Thursday 10th November, Friday 11th, and Saturday evening at 7.30, with one matinée on Saturday 12th at a slightly earlier time of 1.30 pm. The production is at the Nexus Theatre, near car park 3 in the grounds of Murdoch University.

The director has given one or two minor tweaks to the script to make it slightly more acceptable than the disturbing 1970s attitudes, but it is still crammed with political incorrectness.

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The Scene:           The Hendersons’ house in the suburb of Lower Plenty in Melbourne.

The Set: Beautifully designed and built by the old stalwarts, Tim Brain and John King. The right and left wings of this stage are actually the theatre’s black walls, with a door on each side. The rear walls are ‘representative’ leaf green frames, which allow one to see the goings on in the passageway to the bedrooms. To the left at the rear is a large, raised kitchen with a high workbench overlooking the dining area. The kitchen was equipped with a sink, a fridge-freezer, and a working oven! Amazingly, the front of the divider was wallpapered with 1970s wallpaper.

Props:                   Ally Snell has produced a wonderful collection of 1970s furnishings including a combined 18-inch black and white TV with a radiogram in an oak case. The music for the play came through the actual baffled speaker (clever). There were bookshelves laden with encyclopaedias and classics. To the left was an oak table with four matching wooden chairs. On the kitchen bench was a cream portable TV, with rabbit ears!

Lighting design:                Tim Brain’s lighting is always well-balanced. There were two standard lamps in the lounge area. The view from the window is almost midnight. The sky was sloe black, crow black, Bible black (sorry wrong play) sky was covered in a mesh of tiny stars, most effective.

Lighting operator:            Smooth work by Sydnee Hopkins

Sound design and recording:       Tim Brain

Sound operator:               Sarah Courtis had various accurate cues as LPs were played and oven timers went off.

Workshop facilitation:    Ellin Sears and Stephen B. Platt, are always welcome.

Stage manager:                Sarah Courtis and her Assistant stage manager: Ben Marovac coped with the planned changes and an unexpected mop-up efficiently.

Costumes:           were supervised by Melissa Merchant, with the appreciated help from Melville Theatre and various op. shops, the clothes were perfect for the era. From the Safari suit to the bell-bottomed jeans, the clothes brought a smile – and a cringe.

Staunch Labor Party supporter, schoolteacher Don Henderson (Daniel Thompson) and his wife Kath (Alicia Pepper) live with their baby son in the suburb of Lower Plenty. It is the night of the 1969 federal election, so Don has invited a group of friends around to watch the election results on the TV as they come in. The whole country knows that the election result is a foregone conclusion, the ALP will win!

The first guests to arrive are two – gasp!! – Liberal supporters, accountant Simon (Tobias Kiste Momb) and his beautifully dressed wife, Jody (Emily Eddon); upset because everyone else is very casually attired. Then, the worse for drink comes Don’s university pal, loud and obnoxious Mal (Zachary Preedy) and his disillusioned wife, Jenny (Emillie Rivalland).

A respectable but uptight dentist, Evan (Ben Marovac) arrives with his attractive but condescending wife, donned in a floral dress, white tights and kinky boots; she is talented artist, Kerry (Kirti Rajwekar). The alcohol consumption increases and as old wounds are opened the situation becomes ugly. To make things worse, a middle-aged, sex-obsessed lawyer, Cooley (Jackson Billington) and his latest model girlfriend, pigtailed nineteen-year-old Susan (Jaimee Gardner) bursts in on the scene.

Mack (Jesse Bellotti), a design engineer – and parttime porn photographer – whose wife has just left him, passes around photos for his friends’ approval, before approaching Susan.
Don’s party is warming up.

The play was sympathetically and lovingly directed by award-winning actor and director, Melissa Merchant. It is a class exercise for the new course unit of stagecraft, direction, and production, which is only one lecture per week. As many of the cast had not even been on stage before and most had no ambitions of becoming regular actors, their main interests – as explained at the top of this review – are to experience being on stage thus linking it to their own diverse degree studies. With only a week and a half of rehearsals, my expectations were therefore low. Yes, there were the odd minor weaknesses, but overall this production was well above average. The word-perfect cast knew their parts, enunciated well, had conquered tricky situations like unobtrusively moving into position before their dialogue, good reaction, and interaction. They can all be very proud. As good as many seasoned actors with weeks of rehearsal.
A fabulous character study, and a reminiscent look at normal daily conversations 50 years ago. Great fun. Catch this classic again.