Monday June 17, 2024


November 21 2012

THE GREENING OF GRACE, Wildie Creative Enterprises and Theatre 19, @ Greenknowe Avenue, Potts Point (formerly Darlinghurst Theatre); 16 November-9 December 2012. Photos by Mel Koutchavlis: Maggie Blinco and Nigel Turner Carroll; right: Maggie Blinco.

Grace (Maggie Blinco) is the grandmother any boy - such as Tim (Nigel Turner Carroll) - would adore. Similarly, Derrick (Don Reid) is the grandfather that boy would give his deliberately tatty jeans to hang out with. Inevitably, therefore, that makes them the parents that would enrage a typically Sydney social-climbing, money-driven daughter such as Jane (Wendy Strehlow). 

Grace is a charity square-knitting, cardy-wearing, happy-in-her-unpretentious-life woman whose husband of 50+ years is a fiery, Labor stalwart and red-ragger from way back. He is as overtly political as she is not; she is kindly and loves Tim without nagging or judgment. This combination has, over the years, produced a young man who, as a teenager preferred fishing with Derrick in his tinny to going out with his banker stepfather on the mega-powerboat. And, rather than landing the MBA that Jane believes is her maternal right, he does environmental science and takes off for Antarctica to study iceberg number B15.

Meanwhile, in Grace's view her grandson is a dear boy, if a little odd in this particular choice: she doesn't really get the greenie stuff. She does get where Jane is these days, which is with a God who doesn't seem to mind her right-wing, greed-is-good outlook, nor her second husband, who epitomises both. And Grace doesn't like any of that so, as the title suggests, Grace's is the life and outlook that will undergo profound change in this, William Zappa's second full-length play after the success of Winter's Discontent.

Zappa unabashedly wears his own political heart on his sleeve in this play. His playwright-director's notes in the program make that quite obvious. Yet, because his clear focus is granny Grace, this is neither a diatribe nor a lecture, but a series of intertwined personal-political family tales that lead to an out and out fairy-tale conclusion. Before that, however, the stories are revealed in seamless and well-orchestrated flashback scenes. They begin with an ambiguous and indefinably menacing moment that only becomes clear late on in the piece. Other emotional upheavals also rock the familial relationships along the way and the way they survive, metamorphose - or not - are acutely observed.

The production's greatest asset is Maggie Blinco, the veteran star of stage and screen whose restrained, nuanced presence is central to its credibility and success. Her journey from sweetly daffy knitter to an entirely other woman is beautifully calibrated in writing and performance. Nigel Turner Carroll achieves the right balance of boy-to-man and is charming, while his crusty, passionately political grand-dad is perfectly realised by Don Reid. In her second astutely realised role this year, after comedic success in I Want To Sleep With Tom Stoppard, Wendy Strehlow is edgy and exasperated as well as exasperating as the born-again Capitalist Christian.


As writer and director Zappa has achieved a clear and well modulated show; his actors understand why and who they are and work seamlessly well together. A different director may have been less likely to savour and encourage quite such a leisurely pace, but with only four previews behind them, it's something that may well pick up as the season progresses. Unintentionally (after the late withdrawal of the real thing) Zappa also proves himself to be a surprisingly adept set designer. In the awkward Darlo space with the modest grandparental home represented by suitably modest furnishings set amid flats that represent actual and emotional icebergs.

It would be good to see this apparently gentle yet unexpectedly provocative play performed for audiences of teenagers and school kids. These are the ones who would really appreciate the cranky mean mother, the loveable gran and irascible granddad, as well as being given a handle on how to explore and argue the big issues and global traumas that face them in their precarious real-life future. The opening night audience was rapt in the story-telling and one can imagine families of all ages being similarly engaged by it too.

Disclosure: Diana Simmonds invested a tiny bit of her pocket money in this production and is very proud to have done so.



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