Ensemble Theatre’s Cruise Control

The first thing to say when talking about Cruise Control, David Williamson’s new play currently on at the Ensemble, is that the cast are electric. Funny, devilish, dry, wacky – they play their characters with energy and honesty. There are some wildly funny scenes, some excellent moments of human emotion – and all at appropriately breakneck speed.

Peter Phelps and Helen Dallimore in CRUISE CONTROL. Photo by Clare Hawley
Peter Phelps and Helen Dallimore in CRUISE CONTROL. Photo by Clare Hawley

A farce, a black comedy, even something of a snide erotica, Williamson’s play takes swipes at multiple issues with presence and thought. Infidelity and domestic violence are up for discussion, along with fading marital excitement, sexual kinks (unfortunately, yes, there is a 50 Shades reference), third world labour, the European economic bubble and even the Israeli-Palestine question. Snappy dialogue surrounds and encompasses and there are moments of genuine theatrical wit. It’s all lively as hell, transporting even. In moments you could be watching a re-imagined, 1930’s Hollywood classic so sparkling are the sparkly bits and so dramatic are the dark asides.

The biggest surprise though is the people Williamson has chosen to place on display. Though some sharp writing is here, and it all looks and sounds like a David Williamson play, this isn’t the same mind that gave us The Club or Don’s Party. On stage here is a wealthy Jewish couple, a successful Aussie surf wear businessman from “the Bra” and his private school bride and a pair of clipped Inglese literati. Did I mention they’re all loaded? Did I mention they’re all a trifle cliche?

Though the writing is too successful for the play to become a rote, rich people with problems snooze-a-thon, it should be remembered this is indeed a black comedy within a farce. That said, it’s probably the most un-relate-able play of Williamson’s you’re ever likely to see. Very much a tale about why the rich are different, with lines like “you gotta work hard to make a buck!” coming un-ironically from the tongue of a man who just opened a Chinese textiles sweatshop, and an undercurrent of “that’s life in the capitalist marketplace,” Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey would like this play!

A comparatively impoverished Phillipino waiter is on hand to represent the “common man” – and the scenes where his wealthy guests slip him a buck, or are so sad to hear he sees his family eight months out of every ten are touching. Just a little bit patronising.

Cruise Control is an inoffensive little, light comedy and is here very well delivered. The set by Marissa Dale Johnson on the Ensemble’s thrust stage is surprisingly serviceable, and the cast manoeuvre about it with agility and skill. The lighting by Ross Graham does what it needs to do and the cast are fun and adventurous under their playwrights direction.

Helen Dallimore makes for a fabulous Aussie femme fatale while Felix Williamson is deliciously evil. Cast pick of the night goes to Kate Fitzpatrick as Silky Wasserman – whose scenes with the reprehensible Williamson truly do steel the play.

Though the play may indeed fall into the widening gap with some, the audience at the Ensemble Theatre were wrapt and no doubt its season there will prosper. Those traveling to the theatre looking for a message about 21st century society (below the balcony decks of the Queen Mary 2) or pressing Australian political issues should probably look for something a little less lithium filled than a show who’s final parable is (Spoiler Alert!) never mess with an ex-Bra Boy.

This season at the Ensemble Theatre is now officially sold out. It will then transfer to The Concourse, Chatswood for three extra Sydney performances on 24th June at 8pm and 25th June at 2pm and 8pm.

Audiences can book for these performances via Ensemble Theatre and The Concourse box offices.

Cruise Control
Company: Ensemble Theatre
Review Date: 03.05.2014
Directed By: David Williamson
Venue: Ensemble Theatre
Opening Date: 26 April 2014
Closing Date: 14 June 2014
Online: https://boxoffice.ensemble.com.au/WEBPAGES/EntaWebShow/ShowDatesCombo.aspx

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