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Dan Spielman and Geoff Morrell. All images: Brett Boardman.

THEATRE: 19 FEBRUARY 2016

By JOHN ROZENTALS

The Blind Giant Is Dancing, by Stephen Sewell | Directed by Eamon Flack

Belvoir (http://belvoir.com.au) | Belvoir Street Upstairs, Surry Hills, Sydney | Until 20 March

I do wonder what the then incumbent, Neville Wran, thought about it all when he presented playwright Stephen Sewell with the 1985 NSW Premier’s Literary Award for writing The Blind Giant Is Dancing.

Just how close did he think that the ALP machinations portrayed onstage by Sewell come to contemporary reality? How many characters did he see bearing at least some resemblance to people he knew from the real world of NSW Labor politics and the broader labour movement?

It would no doubt be a discomforting question to ask any ALP protagonist of the mid-1980s — or for that matter of before or since. But don’t stop at Labor.

I’m sure that there are just as many skeletons in Liberal/National closets as well. They just don’t know how to twist their knives as publicly and spectacularly.

And while Flack’s production largely remains true to the era in which Sewell wrote, there are equally undoubtedly plenty of similarities to current politics. Just add the extra complications of the internet, mobile phones and social media. My, my!

The Blind Giant is essentially about power and its ability to corrupt both those who have it and those who desire it. That’s clear in director Eamon Flack’s program notes: “The ranks of artists and politicians are filled with damaged goods, and I’m convinced that the pursuit of power is almost always some kind of derangement, no matter how good your intentions.”

In this case the good intentions belong to Allen Fitzgerald (Dan Spielman), an idealistic  social economist and committed Marxist working his way through the party hierarchy.

Spielman is perfect in the role and totally convincing as his morality crumbles, both at a political level and in his unhappy relationship with his feminist socialist, Jewish wife Louise Kraus (Yael Stone).

I would, though, have loved to see how Geoffrey Rush handled to role in the State Theatre Company of South Australia’s original 1983 production.

Stone and Zahra Newman, who plays the world-weary investigative journalist Rose Draper and becomes for a while Fitzgerald’s lover, certainly ensure that there is no questioning here of the strength of female roles on the Australian stage.

Geoff Morrell is brilliantly sly (or is it slimy?) and ruthless as Michael Wells, Fitzgerald’s principal adversary in Sussex Street, and provides twist upon twist to a cleverly conceived plot.

It’s a play with a large cast, and I’m not going to dwell on them all. They were all good, but I’ll select for special mention the following: Russell Kiefel as Allen Fitzgerald’s bitter and somewhat naive working-class dad, Doug; Genevieve Lemon as Eileen, Doug’s beautifully well-meaning wife; and Ivan Donato, as Ramon Gris, a Chilean socialist exiled from his homeland by the tragic cruelty of General Pinochet.

Dale Ferguson’s simple, stark set harbours plenty of clever electronic tricks and quickly becomes an effective, integral part of the performance, while Steve Toulmin’s sound work and Verity Hampson’s lighting set moods that can chill, startle and seduce.

The finale, with the cast marching boldly through the audience while stirringly singing  The Internationale in Russian will remain with me for many months.

And that really leads in to director Flack’s response to his earlier lambasting of the quest for power, and about the writer’s embrace of humanity: “Blind Giant is really about the antidotes to this derangement: collective undertakings, shared understandings, feminism, critique, outspokenness, moral leadership, compassion, love, variety of like ... A more fragile list, but more necessary for it.”

Thumbs up!

Dan Spielman and Zahra Newman.

Ivan Donato.

Genevieve Lemon and Russell Kiefel.

Dan Spielman and Yael Stone.

Dan Spielman.