Cassie Tongue is one of Australia’s leading theatre critics and arts writers. isthisyours? all-female, three-actor version of David Williamson’s The Club made her think and made her laugh (a lot). We chat to here about what she loved about the production, and how you can get the most out of it as you walk in.
In your review of The Club, you wrote:
It’ll leave you thinking, and it’s a gift to think: it means that the play’s deeper currents stick with you long after the gags have worn off.
What did it make you think about and why did you enjoy it?
I’m the kind of person who likes theatre that makes me think… I really like being left with something after I’ve walked out and after it’s over, which I think a lot of people do. So I think I was kind of primed for the show and already in that space going into it.
But I also think that if you’re trying to make something new out of an old comedy that maybe doesn’t work the way it used to, then you can make superficial changes to that but the real challenge is to put meaning back into it and make it speak to where we are now. isthisyours? and their new version of The Club did that. It found a way around what was old or, perhaps, dated about The Club and gave it back the bite underneath the jokes.
And what I like about this production is how it doesn’t just interrogate masculinity, but gender as a construct.
In this play there’s a really interesting conversation happening with tradition, both in relation to traditional ideas of masculinity but also with the Australian canon. What questions do you think The Club is posing?
Firstly, this play is its own comic invention. So that part is delightful, because it’s a very fresh take on Australian comedy. And the fact that it’s building on and over an old guard is really exciting. We’ve inherited this canon, rightly or wrongly that’s upheld, that’s considered tradition… and so we have overwhelmingly white-male indulgent comedy. This play really does indulge violence towards women, sexism and misogyny even when it’s saying that stuff isn’t okay… it’s doubling down on it and the actions that lead to it in other ways.
So the great thing about this play from isthisyours? is that you’re seeing a new generation of artists take the canon and rewrite it and re-route it into new directions and maybe into new values that we maybe didn’t have before, or didn’t have the language to adequately express before. It’s not a disrespectful take on the original, it’s a gently reinvigorated take on it. And gives the power back to women and gives the power back to new makers.
I think this production shows that the canon isn’t fixed. It says that it’s okay to treat the canon as a living document and to re-invigorate it and to create new work on top of it, or through it. Additionally it questions our canon. It very clearly makes the case that just straight up doing The Club now is maybe not the best choice.
isthisyours? says ‘how can The Club work now?’ and I think that’s really exciting.
What is the experience of the seeing The Club? If you could prime an audience member before going into this show, what would you tell them?
I think it’s one of those great productions where you just have to let it go where it’s going to go. Don’t try to be three steps ahead of it. There’s something about letting go and accepting what’s happening when you’re inside of this show that’s incredibly freeing and rewarding. Just relax into it and have fun. I think it’s incredibly funny, and while it does get dark, it always comes back around to being funny.
David Williamson’s The Club (an all-female, three-actor version) plays in the Space Theatre from 5-20 April. You can purchase your tickets here.