Our current political conservatism in Australia is posing fierce confrontation and distress amongst us. Outrage with overseas financial connections, funding cuts where needed most, protests against injustice to people seeking asylum, denial of the current climate ~ all unsettling. This current unrest is dramatised in David Williamson’s Family Values from the perspective of conservative Australia.
Roger, a retired federal court judge is having his 70th birthday party, a small gathering celebrating with his wife Sue, two daughters Emily and Lisa, and their son Michael. The party derails quite quickly before it even has the opportunity to begin as two unexpected guests arrive. Noelene, the wife of their youngest daughter Emily and an asylum seeker on the run, Saba, who is desperately avoiding being sent back to Nauru with the aid of the oldest daughter Lisa.
Needless to say this turmoil throws everyone into a spin, and deeply challenges new and old belief systems of the family as a whole, and of course, individually. The party consequently spirals into an angry roller coaster of blame where the siblings are intent on tearing each other to shreds, blaming their ‘unfortunate’ upbringing on their mother who was too seemingly hard on them and a somewhat aloof father who parented at a safe distance from his office.
The adult children of the play struggle ferociously to find meaning in their privilege and their lives, and use their fight in life against each other ~ successfully pulling rank on who has had it worse. Stepping in to also pull rank and intimidation over the others is the wife of the youngest ~ a character written with such stereotype as the gay angry lesbian, was a little unbelievable, though portrayed as earnestly as possible by Bishanyia Vincent.
The only two characters who seemed to have a grip on reality was the Iranian asylum seeker Saba (Sabina Walters) played with sincere immediacy, fear and attunement to her surroundings and Sue (Belinda Giblin) portrayed with playful sophistication, charm, brilliant timing and authenticity.
What I question about the creation of the refugee character however, was her being written as a second year medical student from her life back in Iran, and top of her class. Was her schooling necessary in this story? Was this written so the other characters would accept her more? Or is this to allow the audience to forgive her further of her circumstance? What if she was simply written as a mother escaping the horrors of a tyrannical regime and seeking solace? Would the other characters and the audience have been as accepting of her had she been less intelligent and or qualified?
This play is one that is full of anger, argument, confusion ~ all representative of our current climate in Australia. I have never seen such loathing on stage which speaks volumes on how Australians are feeling living in such degradation of justice to people and land. David Williamson and director Lee Lewis successfully channeled our current rage, and mirrored it back to the audience with passion, humour, a sleight of hand, and a play on conservative opinion.
Family Values is produced by Griffin Theatre Company at SBW Stables Theatre, Darlinghurst until March 7, for more information and tickets https://griffintheatre.com.au/whats-on/family-values/
Director: Lee Lewis
Featuring: Belinda Giblin, Danielle King, Andrew McFarlane, Jamie Oxenbould, Ella Prince, Bishanyia Vincent and Sabryna Walters.