Reviewed by Jack Curtiss
This was the second local theatre outing this year for David Williamson’s ironiically titled take on the phenomenon known as the radio “shock jock.” The term originated in 1970’s America to describe provocative or irreverent announcers who endeavoured to attract attention using humour and/or language that a significant portion of the listening audience would find patently offensive.
In the case of Williamson’s Sydney-based Ziggy Blasko this broadcast technique can be summed up in one word: confabulation, i.e. “a spontaneous narrative report of events that never happened…often consisting of the creation of false memories, perceptions or beliefs about the self or the environment and typically difficult to differentiate from delusions and from lying.” On air, Ziggy waxes nostalgically over belt-weilding disciplinary episodes with an immigrant parent that in fact never happened and describes vitriolic racism as “saying what must be said.”
But despite the ostensibly high ratings Ziggy’s actual influence does not extend into his own recently expanded household which now includes a self-absorbed second wife with an infant child, a bipolar teenaged daughter and a wartime atrocity-haunted father. Meanwhile his progressive-minded psychologist sister continually challenges Ziggy’s professed assumptions and the newest addition to the domestic staff is a Muslim housekeeper acutely sensitive to his bigoted rants. All this leads to some fairly predictable if embarassing developments that nonetheless leave the self-assured hero unfazed.
Director Les Zetlein fields a cast of veteran players who handle their roles with accomplished flair especially Bronwyn Ruciak as Zehra the tormented Turkish maid and Megan Dansie as do-gooder sister Connie. Rachel Burfield is excellent as the washed-up ballerina wife, Carmela and Peter Kentish is aptly affecting as the war-ravaged father. Chris Leech is a tad too well-spoken to be totally believable as the voluable blowhard Ziggy and eschews a studio headset unlike most real-life broadcasters. Rounding out the St. Jude’s team are Lauren Binns as daughter Vivienne and Greg Janzow as Tony the chauffeur.
The handsome set by Robert Aust works admirably and is accented with a striking original painting by Normajean Ohlsson. Sound and lighting by Evan Pearce were spot-on.
All told, this production of Influence was a thoroughly amusing and poignant tale of contemporary hypocrisy, media manipulation and xenophobic pandering. Not to mention the fame and financial rewards that may accompany such dark talents.