Cruise Control

Ensemble Theatre, April 30

Clockwise from back left, Helen Dallimore, Henri Szeps, Kate Fitzpatrick, Felix Williamson, Michelle Doake and Peter Phelps. Photo: Clare Hawley

Clockwise from back left, Helen Dallimore, Henri Szeps, Kate Fitzpatrick, Felix Williamson, Michelle Doake and Peter Phelps. Photo: Clare Hawley

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: or 02 9929 0644 or or 1300 795 012

A version of this review ran in the Sunday Telegraph on May 4

Spur of the Moment

ATYP Studio, August 30

Zoe Carides, Felix Williamson and Holly Fraser. Photo: Olivia Martin-McGuire

Zoe Carides, Felix Williamson and Holly Fraser. Photo: Olivia Martin-McGuire

Written by British playwright Anya Reiss when she was just 17, Spur of the Moment premiered at London’s Royal Court Theatre a year later in 2010. It’s a remarkably assured, keenly observed play that belies her age and experience.

Set in a suburban, middle-class home, parents Vicki (Zoe Carides) and Nick (Felix Williamson) are at loggerheads, arguing bitterly over anything and everything. Nick, it transpires, has lost his job after having an affair with his boss.

To make ends meet they now have a 21-year old lodger called Daniel (Joshua Brennan). As Vicki and Nick bicker downstairs, they are oblivious to the fact that their nearly 13-year old daughter Delilah is developing a serious crush on Daniel, who isn’t immune to her charms. The potential for disaster feels dangerously real.

Reiss (who was in the audience on opening night) has a keen ear for dialogue and writes just as convincingly for the snarky parents as for Delilah and her giggling, squealing, bitchy, tweenage friends, who are obsessed with High School Music and Harry Potter.

Spur of the Moment is both funny and disquieting. It veers into sitcom at times, Reiss opts for a soft landing at the end, and a couple of scenes feel overwritten, particularly the final one in which the parents dress Delilah down. A scene in which Daniel constantly repeats: “This is the worst thing that I’ve done in my life” also feels a bit overdone, but overall the play rings true.

Fraser Corfield, artistic director of the Australian Theatre for Young People (ATYP), directs a tight production on Adrienn Lord’s detailed, split-level set, which allows you to see into four rooms at once (Daniel’s and Delilah’s bedrooms, the kitchen and lounge).

The production is well acted with the cast doing a pretty good job of the English accents. Williamson plays Nick as weak, comical and rather daggy so the plummy, upper-crust accent he gives him feels a bit incongruous but he maintains our sympathy for the character, as does Carides for the embittered Vicki. It is terrific for the young ATYP cast to be able to work with actors of this calibre.

Fraser captures Delilah’s passion, naivety and headstrong nature and Brennan is convincing as the guilty, angst-ridden Daniel who has his own personal issues. There is strong support from Lucy Coleman as Daniel’s girlfriend and Simone Cheuanghane, Madeleine Clunies-Ross and Antonia Lewin as Delilah’s friends.

It would have been nice to see ATYP perform an Australian play for the major work in their 50th year but this impressive production deserves to find a wide audience that extends beyond young people.

Spur of the Moment runs at the ATYP Studio, The Wharf until September 14

An edited version of this review ran in the Sunday Telegraph on September 8