“Competitive Tenderness” is all about the farcical machinations in the Municipality of the City of Greater Burke. In this frenetic production Director Harry Dewar manages to wrangle his large cast in and around the small Arts Centre stage at Port Noarlunga. The play, by Australian playwright Hannie Rayson, was written and first performed in 1996. In that same year the ABC aired the iconic and compelling documentary “Rats in the Ranks” a film entirely focussed on the campaigns of rival mayoral candidates for the City of Leichhardt NSW in 1994. In Rayson’s play the focus is on new CEO Dawn Snow (played by Dawn Ross) and her devious dealings and manic manipulations of all council staff. Whilst it is high farce indeed it targets the darker side of human nature; relentless ambition, envy, corruption and betrayal to name but a few! In other words it is a classic study of politics! I found the title rather curious because whilst there is much competition on display and every character has a personal agenda there is only a smidgeon of tenderness in evidence and that is directed towards dogs.
Damien White as Mayor Brian Guest is a most believable character. Damien voices his character very well, his diction is excellent and he addresses us with mayoral authority. He looks like leadership material to me! Rebecca Gardner plays Council receptionist, Delia, in a convincing manner with voice both true and clear. I can say much the same about office assistant, Delia’s rival and new CEO favourite, Amelia (Samara Gambling). Both performers have good, strong and clear voices and both ably maintain their characters throughout. Geoff Hastwell plays Kel the superviser of the outside or “field” staff. He is also Union rep. and is liked and trusted by all co-workers until he too falls under the spell of CEO Dawn the Dreadful. Geoff crafts a workmanlike and worthy performance in this role. Will Dunn is a not so bright and a wee bit grubby Piggy Katsos who hankers after receptionist Delia. That’s his agenda and eventually she relents and agrees to a movie date; hard to fathom really!
Chris Dewar, as Minister for Local Government Kimberley Farkley, like Mayor Guest, is a totally believable character. He makes sitting on the fence an art form. Chris also voices him well with clear and well modulated diction in a commendable performance. (I believe that if you can find the right voice for your character it can really then start to take shape). Dragi Smilevski, the Macedonian, is played with consistent accent and only slightly restrained belligerence by John Broadly. He knows CEO Dawn from their mutual past and is eager to enter into any deal that will give him land to develop. John’s portrayal of Dragi is one of the several standout performances in this piece. Aled Proeve as Dogcatcher Trevor is mildly nuts and chases mutts! He displays one of the few instances of tender and compassionate emotion inasmuch as he never destroys a captured dog. Aled, again with clear vocals, provides the odd comic moment. New CEO Dawn (Dawn Ross) enters the fray with an interesting curriculum vitae and, as assumed by the major political players, will be accompanied by an influential Commercial Banker husband. Dawn certainly plays her character as a “new broom” but rather than sweeping clean she sweeps dirty! Dawn plays her well although I think she can invest her CEO with a touch more amoral coldness.
Other cast members play multiple parts including a most versatile and effective Cherylene O’Brien as well as Bronwyn Calvett’s Customer (1) who is greatly aggrieved by a newly issued parking fine that cannot be cancelled. We’ve all been there!
The small stage struggled to accommodate all the playing areas including two offices elevated upstage, as well as reception and meeting areas downstage. Throw in the central “Staff Only” facility and room to move anywhere is at a premium. The play is fast moving and presented as a series of sketches much like a revue. It did lack pace and continuity at times owing either to lighting cues being slow on the uptake or cast not quite in place and ready for the next scene, and there are many of them! But it was the first night of the Company’s season and I’m sure all aspects of the production will get slicker and the pace of the piece will improve. Whilst “Competitive Tenderness” is pure parody it still highlights the fact that politics at all levels is a bruising business. Who’s game to put their hand up?