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Every year for the last (some large number) of years, the MTC (and, presumably, the STC) have put on David Williamson's latest play. He's conscientiously put out at least one play per year for a long time. My response to Williamson plays depends a little on my mood on the night I attend the theatre. They are normally nice slickly written stories that maintain your interest with a nice wry humour. But inevitably there's going to be people drinking gin and tonics, or studying at/working at a University, engaged in the professions or in industry. Which makes it a bit hard to keep each play distinct as you remember them in later years.

But last year, Williamson announced that he was retiring from the yearly play writing business. So the MTC decided to put on the classic early Williamson play: Don's Party.   (Click here for a link to the MTC web site entry for Don's Party.)

Don's Party is set in an election night party in 1969, the year that John Gorton as leader of the Liberal Party held on to power despite many expectations that Gough Whitlam was going to win for the Labor Party.

The 1969 election is the first one I remember. My mother and father put my sister Allison and I into a car and drove us all to (I think) a school, and asked us to stay in the car whilst they went in "to boat". This struck me as very strange, since we were nowhere near the water, and I knew that you used boats in water. When you are one or two years old, parents say new words and then explain them. They say the word "dog" or "cow" and then point at a dog or a cow. But by the time you are five (my age in 1969) they have concluded that you will just magically pick up the meaning of thousands of words if they simply use the word and don't bother explaining it.

I'm not sure how long it took me to decypher that they had really said they were going "to vote" and what that meant. I had a general understanding of the concept by 1972 ("It's Time") and by 1974 my primary school teachers (in Ela Beach Primary School, Port Moresby) were explaining to the Grade Five class what Double Dissolutions were. (!! I'm sure that's not common.) By 1975 I was up to reading newspaper articles about the dismissal and the election.

All that is a convoluted way of saying that I found Don's Party interesting as a representation of a time that is just on the very outer edges of my memory. The kitchen on the set with its coloured set of plastic Flour, Sugar, etc. containers were familiar, as was the VB beer in large brown bottles, the "Feature Wall" and the vinyl couches. (Well, we didn't have vinyl couches at our house, but friends did.)

Of course, my memories as a five year old didn't stretch to the bad language and the open sexual experimentation and tensions depicted in the play. But probably a significant majority of Australian households in 1969 didn't see them either.  Had Williamson simply been depicting the average party in 1969, his play wouldn't have attracted much interest. But presumably it was popular because it was seen as just a little bit excessive and daring, but something that just might happen.

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Anthony Holmes January 21st, 2007 05:58:53 PM

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