Serious Disruption: Susan Mitchell Revisits The Club

The celebrated writer comes back to a play she spent years researching.

Doctor Susan Mitchell has been a long-term observer of David Williamson

We were digging through our show archives when we came across the program for our 1997 production of David Williamson’s The Club. While flipping through the pages we came across a reading of the play from a feminist perspective by Dr Susan Mitchell.

We got in touch with Susan so we could revisit the work before isthisyours? turn it upside down with their all-female, three-actor version.

What is your experience or understanding of David Williamson’s The Club?

The Club is a classic example of a men’s club and all of the rituals and the commotion and sentimentality and the loyalty that goes with that. And, of course, it was written so long ago, the late 1970’s.

The Club is on the cusp of change, which involves the buying and selling of players; he dumping of good, true, loyal players because they’re simply not good enough, and the buying in good? players with no loyalty to the club. The market then begins to take over, which becomes the central conflict of the play… or the thrust of the action. This whole notion of ‘the club’ is losing its traditional loyalties and its traditional values and is just becoming another marketplace. And so you get the old values versus the new disruption coming into it.

Members of isthisyours? talk about their new spin on the Aussie classic

In your thesis An Analysis of Sexual Politics in the Plays of David Williamson you wrote:

Those who ultimately win the power struggles both in the domestic and the institutional arenas are always heterosexual males and more significantly those characters whose ‘maleness’ is linked to an ability to score highly with women and against other men. Thus winning and losing are seen to be inextricably intertwined with particular notions of sexuality.

Could you elaborate on this in the context of isthisyours? all-female, three-actor production?

There are no female characters in this play. It’s an all-male club, namely a football club. But women are mentioned all the time throughout. There are no female characters literally written into this play, but they have a presence onstage that hangs over the action. They are very much a part of it.

And it looks at the roles women are expected play in terms of being linked to these football players. So, Jock, who is this really old fashioned guy, thinks nothing of belting his wife the first time she says that he met someone who beat him on the field. There’s a lot of what we now call domestic violence, but we didn’t necessarily have the language for back then. This behaviour was never ever questioned. A lot of the failings of the men are traced back to their wives not supporting them properly or not being very good at sex.

An excerpt from our 1997 program of David Williamson’s The Club

All the really weak men have wives that have got something wrong with them. So the function of women in this play, and I guess at the time in which the play is set, is to be of support to the players; to act in service of the club and the men that run it.

So, to see women taking on these politics is very interesting, and really quite fun.

Cast member Louisa Mignone

What about an all-female, three-actor version of The Club excites you?

Anything that attacks or challenges old ways of thinking or doing things is very exciting. I mean, you see similar sorts of disruptions in sport, in the arts, in the corporate world… this play isn’t separate from all of that but very much a part of it. It’s a different world now from when The Club was initially performed, so a different production is fantastic. This production says ‘have a look at this, this is how it used to be and look how far we’ve come’.

David Williamson would say that he was just presenting social photographs of his time, that he wasn’t promoting any sort of behaviour but merely showing the audience the world and the power structures of an all-male football club as they were, and possibly as they are now. In my initial thesis, I challenged the accuracy of those photographs by looking at the broader pattern of his work… but I think it’ll be interesting to sit in the audience and see what people laugh at now, how the play engages with the humour and how it changes.

It’s a fascinating experiment, this production.

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 ticketshere.

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