Ensemble Theatre, April 30
Inspired by a transatlantic cruise that he and his wife took, David Williamson’s latest comedy Cruise Control features three incompatible couples, each hoping to resolve their relationship issues on a luxury cruise, who find themselves having to share a dinner table every night.
There’s Richard (Felix Williamson), a failed British novelist who is arrogant, abusive and a compulsive womaniser, and his long-suffering wife Fiona (Michelle Doake), a successful publisher.
Joining them are elderly New York Jewish periodontist Sol (Henri Szeps) and his bored wife Silky (Kate Fitzpatrick) who spends his money freely while constantly undermining him, along with Australians Darren (Peter Phelps), a Bra Boy who manufactures surf wear, and his gorgeous wife Imogen (Helen Dallimore) who was “cut and polished” at Ascham.
Looking after them is Filipino waiter Charlie (Kenneth Moraleda), who is just happy to be providing for his much-loved family.
The first act is an entertaining comedy of manners as Williamson establishes the characters and the spiky dynamics between them. But in the second act some of the steam goes out of the play with a few fairly unconvincing plot turns and a lack of any real tension as things begin to feel predictable.
The final tying up of the light-weight plot is somewhat contrived and spelling out what happens to Richard at the end feels unnecessarily tacked on.
Williamson directs the play himself and keeps the action moving fluidly on Marissa Dale-John’s cleverly compact set, which certainly captures the world of a cruise ship. In the naturalistic setting, it’s odd though (and distracting) to see the actors “pouring” pretend wine into cheap plastic glasses.
The play is well performed by the strong cast. Felix Williamson gives a darkly entertaining performance as the irredeemably unlikeable Richard, Phelps brings just the right swagger to the tough, tattooed Darren, Dallimore shines as the voluptuous Imogen who is frustrated by her husband’s lack of attention, Doake is also very good as the put-upon, kindly Fiona, Fitzpatrick nails many of the biggest laughs as the elegant, bored Silky, Szeps is touching as Sol (though he was a little hesitant with some of his lines on opening night), and Moraleda injects some welcome heart as Charlie.
Though Cruise Control isn’t as gripping as it clearly aims to be, and peters out towards the end, there are some very funny lines, some astute observations and some poignant moments.
Cruise Control runs at the Ensemble Theatre until June 14. All performances are sold out so three new performances have been added at The Concourse, Chatswood on June 24 & 25. Bookings: http://www.ensemble.com.au or 02 9929 0644 or http://www.ticketek.com.au or 1300 795 012
A version of this review ran in the Sunday Telegraph on May 4