Review: The Big Time, Ensemble Theatre

Oliver Wakelin

Williamson delivers yet another hilarious and incisive theatrical experience with The Big Time.
Review: The Big Time, Ensemble Theatre

Aileen Huynh and Claudia Barrie in The Big Time. Photo by Brett Broadman.

After attending drama school together, Celia (Aileen Huynh) was inundated with over twenty offers of representation from top agents, whereas Vicki (Claudia Barrie) received only six. Since then Celia has been playing the lead in a popular soap opera, earning big money and garnering national attention while Vicki reports that she’s been doing the hard yards, creating worthwhile art for small but sophisticated audiences.

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When Vicki turns her hand to film directing she has the opportunity to cast Celia in a career defining role, but will jealousy and bitterness overcome the better angels of Vicki’s nature? We also meet Rohan (Jeremy Waters), the out of work screen writer, and Rolly (Ben Wood) the straight shooting best mate: underhanded behaviour rears its head in writing circles too. By rounding out the cast with agent Nelli (Zoe Carides), and producer Nate (Matt Minto), The Big Time provides a complex and satisfying perspective on the industry.

Director Mark Kilmurry notes that playwright David Williamson has the ability to discover the heightened essence of a world, and that he delivers a cast of likeable characters who make us laugh, while also dealing with loneliness, desperation, jealousy, ambition, and betrayal. All this is juxtaposed with the sense of hopefulness that drives those creatives who are yet to make it.  

Williamson delivers yet another hilarious and incisive theatrical experience with The Big Time. Since 1967 he has had over fifty of his plays produced: the program states he is probably Australia’s most widely performed playwright.  Known for the detailed research he conducts into the worlds he explores, Williamson is able to draw on nearly fifty years of personal experience in this industry, as well as that of his sons who both attended drama school, his daughter who is an agent, and his wife who was a drama teacher and theatre critic.

Jeremy Waters and Ben Wood in The Big Time. Photo by Brett Broadman.

Through deft staging by Kilmurry and Melanie Liertz (Set and Costume Design) a single space is transformed from bar to bedroom to living room with the lightest touches. There are wonderful costuming moments which externalize the inner elation and desperation of the characters: the abruptness of the changing sartorial styles had the audience in stitches.

Ben Wood as Rolly is both hysterically funny and emotionally powerful, turning on a dime with immense control and energy. Aileen Huynh is astonishing as Celia: whether soaring on cloud nine or paralysed in the depth of despair, Huynh meets the demands of this challenging role, at one moment even playing the part of an actress who is required to deliver a heart wrenching performance for film. The performances across the board display high verisimilitude: Kilmurry notes that his job is primarily to cast really well and let the words fly, both of which he achieves here.

The patrons behind me called out vociferously in moments of despair and elation, which reportedly has been common during the run so far. Don’t miss your chance to see the latest Williamson play which has audiences on the edge of their seats.

Rating: 4 ½ stars ★★★★☆

The Big Time
By David Williamson
Directed by Mark Kilmurry
Assistant Director Felicity Nicol
Set and Costume Designer Melanie Liertz
Lighting Designer Nicholas Higgins

CAST:
CLAUDIA BARRIE plays actor Vicki Fielding
ZOE CARIDES plays agent Nelli Browne
AILEEN HUYNH plays actor Celia Constanti
MATT MINTO plays producer Nate Macklin
JEREMY WATERS plays scriptwriter Rohan Black
BEN WOOD plays Rohan’s old school friend, Rolly Pierce

18 January - 16 March 2019
Ensemble Theatre, Kirribilli

What the stars mean?
  • Five stars: Exceptional, unforgettable, a must see
  • Four and a half stars: Excellent, definitely worth seeing
  • Four stars: Accomplished and engrossing but not the best of its kind
  • Three and a half stars: Good, clever, well made, but not brilliant
  • Three stars: Solid, enjoyable, but unremarkable or flawed
  • Two and half stars: Neither good nor bad, just adequate
  • Two stars: Not without its moments, but ultimately unsuccessful
  • One star: Awful, to be avoided
  • Zero stars: Genuinely dreadful, bad on every level

About the author

Oliver Wakelin is a WAAPA acting graduate and a PhD candidate.