Time Out (Sydney)
Griffin Theatre Company turns40
A giant of the Australian arts scene is celebrating four decades of telling our stories. By Neha Kale
DAVID WILLIAMSON SAYS he owes his artistic trajectory to Griffin Theatre Company. Back in 1971, the then-fledgling writer staged his play The Removalists, directed by John Bell, at Kings Cross’s Nimrod Street Theatre, the intimate, 105-seater venue that in 1979 would become the SBW Stables Theatre. The play
– a searing exploration of police brutality and domestic violence – was one of the first onstage representations of modern-day Australia. The space would be the home of new Australian writing for the next half century. “The Removalists made people sit up and take notice and [Griffin] really created me,
I owe everything to that space,” says Williamson, whose new play, Family Values, will launch Griffin’s 2020 season. It marks 50 years of the Stables and 40 years of the theatre company next year. “One of the tragedies in the arts in Australia is that Griffin is one of the lone voices that is committed to new Australian theatre. It’s wonderful to be back there after 50 years.” Family Values revolves around a judge who must negotiate the political differences in his family on the eve of his birthday. The darkly comic play is an indictment of the ways in which Williamson’s generation has chosen the safety of wealth and privilege over social conscience. “One daughter is very radical, one of the sons is in Hillsong and the other daughter has left a loveless heterosexual marriage for a gay relationship, and they are forced to meet on the day of their father’s 70th,” says Williamson, who adds that he’s been using this comedic structure since Don’s Party in 1971. “Into this we bring a refugee that has been bought out to Australia after three suicide attempts. Scott Morrison keeps telling us, ‘How good is this? This is the greatest country on Earth.’ Well, it’s the greatest country on Earth if you’re Scott Morrison. It’s a play that’s funny in parts. But there’s an underlying anger at what kind of country we have allowed ourselves to become.” Griffin’s 2020 season will also feature Wherever She Wanders, by up-andcoming playwright Kendall
Feaver, and Superheroes, written by Mark Rogers and directed by Shari Sebbens. For Lee Lewis, Griffin’s artistic director, the theatre company’s emphasis on new Australian writing has helped cultivate generations of Australian playwriting talent.
It’s also meant that the company can take artistic risks. “Larger companies are under pressure to cast stars in order to sell tickets,” she says. “We will start with a completely unknown writer and actors. Unknown people can make an extraordinary mark on the Australian cultural landscape.”
■ Family Values, SBW Stables Theatre, 10 Nimrod St, Darlinghurst 2010. 02 9361 3817. griffintheatre.com.au. $20-$62. Jan 17-Mar 7.
“[Griffin] created me, I owe everything to that space”