David Williamson on The Club

We speak to the playwright about how one of his most revered works has aged over the last forty years

David Williamson, writer of The Club

Before Adelaide theatre company isthisyours? turn David Williamson’s The Club upside down with their all-female, three-actor version, we sat down to talk to the writer about what originally inspired his play and why he’s excited to see it reinvented on the Adelaide stage.

Why did you write The Club and why is the idea of an all-female, three-actor version like the one that isthisyours? have created exciting to you?

My original intention for The Club was that it was a satire of male competitive behaviour and ruthlessness when power and success were dangled before us. So originally it was a satire of bad male behaviour towards each other. I think males are trained to engage in combat with other males and that causes a lot of problems. But part of the play also deals with bad male behaviour towards females… it wasn’t the main part of the play but it was certainly there. And no one is better to skewer bad male behaviour towards women than women! isthisyours? will very acutely increase the satire of men behaving badly and the idea of ‘men being men’.

I didn’t get to the Sydney season… I was ill and had to miss it, but my son and daughter-in-law went and said it was terrific. I really can’t wait to see what they do with it.

Louisa Mignone and Ellen Steele in their all-female, three actor version of The Club. Photo by Marnya Rothe

The Club is undeniably a classic Australian text. Everyone has a history with it, whether they’ve read it at school, or performed in it or seen the movie… it’s one of those texts that feels intrinsic to Australian theatre culture. How do you see it as being relevant in 2019?

One of the things that sticks out to me is that male attitudes towards women in the 1970’s that were considered normal at the time are now seen as distinctly not normal. So, in that respect, one of the things that The Club will underline is how much values have shifted or, at least, should have shifted. There was a feeling that when I talked to director Tessa Leong that males have got a lot better over the last forty years at behaving more respectfully on the surface, but whether there’s been a real big shift in their attitudes and behaviour towards females is not always readily apparent. When you look at the domestic violence statistics they seem worse now than they did forty years ago. When you look at instances of sexual harassment it’s either that more of it is being reported now or that there’s just simply more of it than there has been in the past. So all of these practical indicators show us that male behaviour hasn’t, in fact, got much better over the years… at all.

I think modern males pride themselves on being more sophisticated than males in the 1970’s but when you look at it, a lot of those behaviours and ideas from The Club are still there. They’re just lurking beneath a more polite surface.

In her interview with you, director Tessa Leong mentioned that the actors were having fun playing characters that were ugly. Why do you think we love to laugh at people we find grotesque or off-putting?

I don’t think all of the characters are totally horrible, for example Laurie the coach is a fairly decent man. But I find… Jock, for instance, to be a bit of a monster. But Jock doesn’t know he’s a monster. He thinks it is completely normal and acceptable to behave as he does.

Humour, in a sense, is people behaving badly and not realising it and the audience laughing at them, and recognising the bad behaviour. It gives us permission to laugh at it. To have fun with it.

It’s the same reason we laugh at a character like Les Patterson, who is one of Barry Humphries’ greatest creation. He’s an absolute monster, he’s a shocker. But he doesn’t know he’s a shocker. We do. But he doesn’t.

That’s what’s funny.


David Williamson’s The Club (an all-female, three-actor version) plays in the Space Theatre from 05 -20 of April. You can purchase your tickets here.

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