Family Values

Griffin Theatre Family Values - photo by Brett BoardmanA potentially decisive and politically charged play is left to become a lacklustre and shamefully self serving essay in the hands of a playwright resting on his laurels.

Family Values is filled with classic and cliched Williamsonisms – an upper (in this case, very upper) middle class home, a gathering (in this case, a birthday) and free flowing political opinions (in the case, every one that Williamson could ram into 90 minutes).

One by one we meet the pawns in Williamson’s latest opinion piece – walking puppets that dump out dialogue that feels so far from how people actually speak and engage with one another. Exposition is rife, used to quickly establish where we are and who we are meeting. This allows the script the luxury to do away with any kind of depth or character development – as if you say “here are your archetype bobble heads, what more do you want?”

Setting the work during a conservative patriarch’s birthday (apathetically played by Andrew McFarlane) and surrounding him with his disappointing children (played by Danielle King, Jamie Oxenbould and Ella Prince, with varying degrees of believability) is an overused trope and one that is tightly wrung out throughout this play. What harshly stands out is the stilted and painfully over-written dialogue.

For a politically passionate family they lacked any kind of fury or emotion – sentences felt more akin to blog posts or news articles, meticulously put to memory for potential later use. It was as if Williamson has forgot how people, especially families, argue –  they stutter, they spit, they hold their tongues, they play happy families, they catch themselves out in hypocrisy. In short, they are interesting.

Unsurprisingly Sabrina Walters character Saba is the most well written and fleshed our character on the stage. One can’t help but feel the pats on the back that went into this character and the “true face of the refugee crisis” that she represents. Walters is utterly on point in her portrayal and makes the most of her moments. Everything leads up to her powerful and respectfully well written monologue, after almost spending the entire play in the shadows (another painfully obvious creative choice).

Special mention must also go to Belinda Giblin’s character Sue for being written and portrayed with great generosity and heart. It’s not easy being the port in the storm of this bland mess but Giblin does it with ease.

Lee Lewis’s direction is often always flawless but with Family Values, Lewis chaotically moves the actors around the space, going about their menial tasks to demonstrate their menial privileged lives. If there was ever any subtly in this work it was beaten by the bat that was used to beat the obvious into the audience – these people are all talk, little action.

There is nothing hard hitting about this work, with few stakes and even fewer moments that strike a cord, one can’t help but wonder why Family Values was seen as anything more than politically pedestrian.

Family Values
SBW Stables Theatre, 10 Nimrod Street, Kings Cross (Sydney)
Performance: Saturday 15 February 2020
Season continues to 7 March 2020 (previews: 17 – 21 January)
Information and Bookings:

Following its season at the SBW Stables Theatre, Family Values will play at the Canberra Theatre Centre: 11 – 14 March; and the Riverside Theatres, Parramatta: 18 – 21 March 2020.

Image: Belinda Giblin and Jamie Oxenbould – photo by Brett Boardman

Review: Gavin Roach