By John Lombard
By David Williamson
Griffin Theatre Company
Canberra Theatre Centre
Reviewed 11 March, on until 14 March
A judge, a refugee, a Christian and a border force agent walk into a room…This isn't Don's Party anymore.
This State of the Nation proclamation by playwright and national treasure David Williamson scrutinises a family splintered by wedge politics. In Williamson’s words, these characters “straddle every fault line that’s ripping at the heart of this nation."
Kindly but feckless retired judge Roger (Andrew McFarlane) summons his wayward children for his 70th birthday bash.
However, his daughter Lisa (Danielle King) interrupts his plans when she bursts in with fugitive Iranian refugee Saba (Sabryna Walters). Lisa seeks the key to the guest house to hide Saba, but Roger dithers over risking his cosy retirement.
After Roger’s Hillsong convert son Michael (Jamie Oxenbould), simpering youngest daughter Emily (Ella Price) and border force agent Noeline (Bishanyia Vincent) join the fray, Roger’s moral dilemma takes a backseat to a bombastic airing of decades of petty family grievances.
Director Lee Lewis struggles with the wry tone of the material. Roger and his truth-telling wife Sue (Belinda Giblin) are played straight, while the children and border force agent Noeline are directed as hallucinogenic goblin caricatures.
But the children make excellent points, whether about barbaric refugee policy, acceptance of homosexuality, or the the simple need for community and kindness. By contrast, Roger is an emaciated figure, prating conservative talking points and befuddled that these children of a judge scream for justice.
The moment of authenticity belongs to tormented refugee Saba in a powerful speech about injustice and hardship that indicts the family’s cosy squabbles as the malaise of rudderless privilege.
Superficially, this is a story of the neglect of career-focused parents raising wild and spoiled children. But the original sin that splits this family isn’t indulgent parenting. it’s Australia’s capricious torture of asylum seekers, a sacrifice of national character that poisons our society.
The play's resolution is satisfying but unconvincing, a glimpse of the playwright’s wish for common sense in Australian life rather than a plausible outcome.
Family Values is a bold, funny, flawed and sincere call for the cosy citizens of the lucky country to stop being “sooks” and take a punt on compassion.