David Williamson’s “Rupert” – reviewed by Deb Meyer

December 1, 2014 by Deb Meyer
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Sitting down to write this review, a strange sweet craving came over me.

The cast of "Rupert"

The cast of “Rupert”

I suddenly found myself ploughing through the remnant strawberry and creams and milk bottles from an old Bat-mitzvah party lolly bag. And what does that have to do with David Williamson’s latest production? Well…

Whilst initially enjoyable, sugary and happy-inducing, Williamson’s Rupert is similarly superficial on the palate, without any depth of flavour or lingering taste. Not wholly unlike the sensational, entertaining headlines of many Murdoch tabloids lacking in substance.

What Williamson has delivered is a meticulously researched account of Murdoch, in cabaret style format, presenting Rupert in all his guises – husband, father, son, editor and media magnate, from his early beginnings – inheriting a failing Adelaide newspaper, to becoming one of the most powerful men in modern history.

Rupert is depicted by Williamson from Murdoch’s perspective – as controlling, charming and charismatic, as well as a ruthless bully, power hungry risk-taker and absent father and husband, with little regard for anyone but himself.

We learn little new information about Murdoch and with such a strong need to make his mother – Dame Elisabeth (played by Jane Turner) proud, what a shame Williamson didn’t probe further to reveal any depth in their relationship, nor in any of his relationships.

Williamson’s Rupert is more a series of review style scenes and skits, informative and linear, with rapid dialogue and scene changes, rather than a narrative with any dramatic tension.

Traversing Australia, England and America, Rupert taps, discos and flamenco dances his way to the top, with an ensemble of 10 actors playing 60 roles, from his immediate family, to Gough Whitlam, Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan.

There are some enjoyable moments of humour, with Kerry, Frank and Clyde Packer (played well by Glenn Hazeldine, Bert LaBonte and Scott Sheridan) depicted as foolish stooges, swearing incessantly and rubbing their huge guts. Jane Turner, as Margaret Thatcher provides some wonderful comedy in her playful flirtation with Murdoch, played assuredly by American actor James Cromwell. Cromwell is well cast as the older Rupert who controls the show from the opening scene, engaging the audience with live tweets and observations of pesky Sydney Morning Herald readers. Older Rupert has cast a younger Rupert in this production – a strangely shorter and more charismatic version of himself, played energetically by Guy Edmonds. Edmonds uses his skilful physicality well given his two dimensional, pantomimed role. Danielle Cormack, as Murdoch’s second wife Anna, gives depth to her roles and has a commanding presence on stage.

Talented director Lee Lewis has given great energy and inventive staging to Williamson’s Rupert, and through fast pace, tight choreography and symbolic movement, has brought out the humour and punch in an otherwise very wordy production.

In the program, Williamson writes that he hopes audiences will start to think about the implications of Rupert’s world view (likening him to Shakespeare’s Richard III) when the play has ended. As a protagonist presented with little regard for others and few endearing qualities, I can’t help but wonder how many audience members will really care.

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Williamson’s Rupert

Presented by Daniel Sparrow Productions

By David Williamson

Director Lee Lewis

Theatre Royal

From November 29 until December 21

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