‘Don Parties On’

‘Don Parties On’ was written by Australia’s best-selling playwright, the phenomenon known as David Williamson. This is the two-hour sequel to Williamson’s 1971 massive hit, ‘Don’s Party’. This play premiered in January 2011 at the Melbourne Arts Centre Playhouse.

This quality production is at the Melville Theatre, on the corner of Stock Road and Canning Highway in Melville, the curtain rises on this new play nightly at 8.00 each Thursday, Friday and Saturday until 8th March.

The sitting room and kitchen set is very well designed and solidly constructed (The Hansens, Jensens, Ross Bertinshaw, and Kim Taylor). The abundance of props and furniture give a very real ‘lived in ‘appearance (Cally Zanik, Dan Madgwick, and Barbara Lovell). Excellent set well lit by Lars Jensen. The lighting was even over the large room and of a pleasant domestic level and tone. How often are the lighting designers happy to simply flood the area with cold bright light? 

       After the tragic end to his 1969 election night party when his favourite – Labor – lost, retired schoolteacher, Don Henderson (Tom Rees) and his wife, Kath (Val Henry) who still trying to come to terms with Don’s minor infidelity decades earlier, decide to host another revelry for the August 2010 federal election. Don invites the same left wing friends and a few new acquaintances; however, the years have changed their views and allegiances.

      As Don and Kath are plating the nibbles, their Bolshie, judgemental teenage granddaughter, Belle (Ellie Bawden) arrives. She is swiftly followed by the ever lecherous, Mal (Ted Bull) a psychologist now in management consultancy. To Don and Kath’s horror, Mal asks along his wretched ex-wife, Jenny (Lis Hoffmann), to whom the hosts have not spoken for twenty years, after a very minor disagreement.

      Suddenly, Don’s ‘baby’ son Richard (Neal Lucanus), who is now in his forties – and is Belle’s father – announces that his estranged wife is seriously ill in hospital. Torn between his wife and his new partner, the neurotic ‘Italian’ Roberta (Cally Zanik), Richard is not sure whether a visit would be appropriate.

      The doorbell rings and it is the love machine from the sixties party, the exceptionally wealthy, right wing lawyer Cooley (Kim Taylor) with his very patient wife, Helen (Rosalba Verrucci – Jeffreys) carrying an oxygen bottle and mask for his emphysema.

     The group sit to watch Kerry O’Brien on the ABC, but within seconds, the sound is turned down and the various political arguments begin, with all the old history being dug up.

Director Jeff Hansen has gathered a magnificent cast, with references and acting history to die for. Their teamwork and performances were slick. The atmosphere in the room changed rapidly back and fore as the cast skilfully confronted each other. Thankfully, the stentorian voiced Ted Bull, as Mal, brought light humour to the whole play.

Sadly, the drawback was the clunky, repetitive script, I felt that this was one of Williamson’s poorest, and could easily be trimmed by 20 minutes. It was a completely different genre to the original ‘Don’s Party’, being a little preachy in pushing Williamson’s left wing views. Having said that, the story had several thought-provoking developments, good storyline threads and it was interesting to see how the years had changed the characters since the first play.

The sound operator had a myriad of split second cues, as mobiles went off and the TV volume and station was changed – but not a beat was missed. Good bio box work from Barbara Lovell and Ross Bertinshaw.

The direction is inventive and the cast go along with the fun scenes, such as the hilarious Credence Clearwater performance. Lis Hoffmann gave an emotional and moving speech as she unburdened her troubles.

There were some fine performances in this enjoyable, quality drama.