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Adelaide Fringe 2011


by David Mamet

Genre: Drama


Higher Ground


Low Down

"Great theatre should be a tempest of energy illuminated by flashes of blinding communication where the audience are on the receiving end of a theatrical thunderbolt. It should be an experience that no other medium can provide."

– Guy Masterson

Since 1991 Guy Masterson has consistently presented theatre of the highest quality dedicated to this principle.


The tables turn on an unsuspecting university professor as a student works to undo his sure footing. One moment he has all the power, and the next moment he has lost it. Gaining power through pre-internet social networking and questioning authority are themes that come to mind as this production of David Mamet’s Oleanna plays out like a king hit in slow motion.

This is one stage play that demands detailed attention to subtext from the director and actors. There must be a clear and complete understanding of the circumstances surrounding the interactions between the university professor and his student from the moment the play begins to those final seconds before the play ends. Any production that leaves room for doubt ultimately lacks the conviction of truth required to fully embrace the shocking climax dramatist David Mamet designed.
This production leaves no doubt as to who is doing what to whom. Is it surprising that such a wordy play with only two characters is so well loved? Must it be that the debate that takes place between the characters continues to strike a resonant chord for audiences worldwide? This superior CIT production directed by Emma Lucia strips the play down to its bare bones. With nothing but two chairs and two actors Lucia provides clear images that simply reflect the changing dynamic between the characters. Subtle developments are well realised with costume alterations as we shift from scene to scene, act to act.
Institutions of learning are thought of as pillars of respectability and considered safe passages for young minds in the quest for knowledge. Oleanna questions this thinking and places the gender debate and political correctness under the microscope in the process. After seeing a few different productions in Adelaide over the past months I feel this one will leave the clearest possible impression on its audience. This production is shocking, but secure in what it says. When all is lost, there is nothing to lose.
The performances are very finely tuned. Joanne Hartstone and Guy Masterson work their craft well and the outcome is as theatrically magical as it gets with Mamet’s dialogue running like a torrent at times in a wholly believable way. When the final moments of the play arrived, one audience member shouted out their spontaneous reaction, unable to contain their personal verdict from the otherwise silently appreciative crowd. No matter, this production is likely to solicit many an unguarded outburst, after all it’s that type of play and the debate rages on. What else do you do when political correctness tries to completely suppress you?