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  • Writer's pictureAlex First

The Great Divide, at Ensemble Theatre - 2 hours, including a 20-minute interval

Australia’s most prolific playwright has come out of retirement and has his finger on the pulse, addressing the cost-of-living crisis.

 

The title of his play refers to the haves and have nots in society.

Photos by Brett Boardman


When David Williamson was a boy in the 1950s, the difference in salary between a worker and a managing director rarely exceeded fivefold.

 

Now the ratio is more like a factor of 200. Home ownership is but a pipedream for most.

 

So, to the contention of The Great Divide:

 

We’re in the Queensland coastal town of Wallis Heads.

 

It a sleepy hollow that has huge growth potential according to Australia’s richest woman, ruthless property developer Alex Whittle (Georgie Parker).

Land that council had earmarked for social housing is now likely to go to Whittle, in exchange for $30 million, money that will be used to creat new council chambers.

 

She intends to build a golf course and country club, as well as luxury residences.

 

She faces opposition from intelligent, single supermarket working mother Penny Poulter (Emma Diaz).

 

Poulter is intent on retaining the essence of the community in which she has grown up.

 

She knows if Whittle’s project is given the green light, the town will become the domain of the well-to-do, its basic character changed forever.

But Whittle is prepared to use every dirty trick in the book to get her way. She has never lost a fight and takes it as read that she can buy her way out of trouble.

 

Caught up in all of this is pragmatic Mayor Alan Bridger (John Wood) and the owner and editor of the town’s local paper, Brian (James Lugton).

 

Then there is Whittle’s long serving and long suffering personal assistant Grace Delahunty (Kate Raison).

 

That’s not to forget Poulter’s 17-year-old talented surfer daughter, Rachel (Caitlin Burley), who frequently locks horns with her mother.

 

And so the battle for the heart and soul of Wallis Heads become an almighty scrap.

David Williamson shows again why he is such a highly regarded writer, one who is not afraid to poke the bear.


There is no pretense about him. His language is incendiary and he quickly gets to the heart of an issue.

 

Under Mark Kilmurry's direction, The Great Divide maintains a cracking pace, with twists aplenty, especially in the first act.


The pithy one-liners come thick and fast, with humour aplenty.

 

The cast that delivers in spades is a beauty.

Georgie Parker shows why playing the villain is often the best role you can get, as she gleefully spruiks vitriol, her language fruity.

 

Slowly and deliberately, with a great deal of gravitas, John Wood as the Mayor knows just which side his bread is buttered.

 

Emma Diaz brings passion and conviction to the socially responsible Penny, while the fight in Caitlin Burley, as daughter Rachel, is palpable.

 

As Grace Delahunty, Kate Raison is driven by revenge.

 

Knowing that the paper is on the verge of bankruptcy, James Lugton deftly straddles the positions of newsman and proprietor.

I was thoroughly engaged and entertained by The Great Divide, which works its way to what I perceived to be its inevitable conclusion.

 

Having said that, I would have liked a shock at the end, to upturn the expected.

 

The benefit of that would also have been to add to the social discourse, which is the essence of a piece like this.

 

Still, as it is, The Great Divide remains compelling, a pointed commentary on the situation in which we find ourselves in the first quarter of the 21st century.

 

With a running time of two hours, including a 20-minute interval, it is playing at Ensemble Theatre in Sydney until 27th April, 2024.

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