The Removalists is the play that put David Williamson on the map as one of Australia’s most revered playwrights.
Since premiering in 1971, it’s been studied, analysed, revived and reimagined to the point where a lot of Australian theatregoers are just a little bit over it. But like most classics, it’s a classic for a reason and when it’s good, it’s really good.
Tamarama Rock Surfers’ production, helmed by artistic director Leland Kean is a faithful reading of the work that burns with energy and balances the comedic elements within the scope of the tragic drama and violence that’s central to the piece.
For those unfamiliar with the play; a new recruit is on his first day in the police force, working alongside an older, more experienced cop who spouts misogynistic remarks and ‘lessons’ that can’t be learnt from the rule book. When a young woman comes in with her sister to make a complaint about her husband abusing her, the older cop sets about a plan to solve their problem in his own unique way.
As Dan Simmonds, the older cop, Laurence Coy plays menacing ignorance to a tee. He has fantastic comedic timing and manages to make an archetypal villain a complex and believable character.
His performance is matched by Sam O’Sullivan as Neville Ross, the young cop. O’Sullivan gives a wonderfully measured and understated performance. Caroline Brazier is gutsy and poised as Kate, and despite the fact that she has flaws like every other character, if you’re going to root for one of them, it’s her. The whole cast turn in impressive performances, but the story really belongs to the policemen.
With a 1970s Aussie rock soundtrack and a set with carpet like you only see in your Nan’s house, this is a play that very much sits in a certain time and place. Ally Mansell’s set is as authentic as the performances and Rita Carmody’s costumes evoke both character and era perfectly.
The fight sequences by Scott Witt are brutal and disconcertingly realistic, especially thanks to Justin Stewart Cotta’s performance as Kenny, although some of the impact is lost if sitting side-on.
This is a production that proves The Removalists still speaks to an audience, although in quite a different way to when it first premiered. In both the writer’s and director’s notes in the program, Williamson and Kean lament the fact that although it’s now over 40 years since the play was written, we’re still dealing with many of the same problems – sexism, crooked cops and domestic violence.
But the laughs now come with a level of discomfort. Dan’s attitudes and his lines are still funny, but the audience now finds them sickening. Which is probably a reflection of the fact that as a society, our awareness of these issues has been raised, perhaps in part by the work of writers like Williamson.
What Leland Kean has essentially done with this production is taken a classic and injected it with the talent and fiery energy that not every revival has had. If you’re to see The Removalists just once in your life, this is the one to see.