The Good, The Bad and the Lawyer – Tony Laumberg satirizes the Australian Upper Middle Class. (Theatre Review)

An underbelly of debate  – I wouldn’t say “rages”, perhaps “whispers” is a better word – its way around Australian society occasionally regarding the modes and methods of our own personal brand of introspective satire. This debate centers around a pre occupation we have with satirizing our country folk (think Crocodile Dundee), our immigrants (the Wogs out of Work franchise) or our bogans (think Cath and Kim) but we tend to leave our “bourgeoisie” and our upper classes to the safety of small vignettes performed on comedy shows, and (in the past) by puppets. A case in point is Paul Fenech’s “Housos v’s Authority” coming to DVD soon.

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It’s a surprise really, when you think of the fodder available from our middle class, our upper class (I remember a woman from Hunters Hill telling me the air was cleaner where she lived) and many noted  business celebrities. Are Australian’s too scared to make a show mocking a thinly veiled Gina Rinehart?  Are they too intimidated to do something other than super serious with Jamie Packer? There have been play writes and television writers willing to tackle these classes in our past – think David Williamson, Patrick White and Rubbery Figures – but I can’t think of anyone giving them (us) proper hell today outside of journalism.

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Well, these seem to be issues that plague Tony Laumberg also, and one that gives him the courage to write satirical pieces about “Snives” Sydney couple, Henry and Margaret Crowley. Laumberg is a lawyer and a play write, and, as he announced at the start of the show I attended, this has turned out to be his fifth play (out of at least eleven as far as I can count) that focusses on the madly-in-love and yet hysterically miss-matched (or are they?) Crowley’s. The way Laumberg tells it, the fictional couple sneak up on him in the dark of the night and demand to be in the next production. It’s an interesting idea, because while Laumberg may be kind to his protagonists, he is not looking at them through rose-coloured glasses.

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The Good, The Bad and The Lawyer is a story that centres around self-satisfied, St Ives dwelling Henry Crowley, a man way too sure of himself and way too sure about what’s wrong with everyone else. He’s more than a stereotyped vision of a lawyer – under Laumberg’s pen henry IS the typical lawyer;  With warm-hearted satire, Laumberg paints him in various shades of transparent. His lines are true to life, and delivered with all the pomp and splendour of a person completely ignorant of the ways any one else may life and yet sure he has wisdom to impart everyone. Lots of people listen to him, we are told, except the people closest to him, most of all his liberal-minded wife who is a retired ASIO spy working under Henry’s nose without him knowing, for many years.

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On the day we meet Henry, he is being interviewed by Rhonda Harper, a particularly ruthless Financial Review lawyer who claims she is only after “a good story”. She is searching for the story behind the story, which, predictably, Henry is determined to convince her isn’t there. He’d like to think his appearance is the only truth – and it is here where the satire of the upper middle class comes in. When Henry goes home that night, aware Harper will be in his house for interview number three in a few days, he finds that his wife has accepted an asylum seeker from Iran into their very stable and very secure home. (Not without decking it out in a fresh batch of security cameras however.)  It is Henry’s attempt to control the way he is perceived (surely the intention of every person living in a wealthy suburb of Sydney) that leads to his downfall.

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And so begins a series of hilarious events, ludicrous situations, and unexpected truths befalling Henry who has to contend with his far-too-clever-for-him wife, his new lodger, the great mathematician Ahmed Zahedi who is just off the boat from Indonesia, and his debt ridden gambling addicted happy-go-lucky cousin who has dropped in suddenly to encourage Henry to back his latest sure thing. Laumberg takes great advantage of his intimate knowledge to pepper the dialogue with lovely little lines such as:

“Don’t you have any compassion?”

“Not when it causes me inconvenience.”

or the very funny:

“I knew you were trouble as soon as you started quoting Martin Luther King,”

“I’m not a criminal, I”m a lawyer!”

“You think the truth ever stopped a lawyer?”

It’s this constant satirical application together with Laumberg’s great affection for his character that makes The Good The Bad and The Lawyer a great romp of a play.  Director Richard Cotter has a wonderful cast to work with: Mark McCann is a clever Henry, at once dignified and deeply silly;  Tricia Youlden is confident and in complete gentle control as Henry’s wife Margaret; Bridgid O’Sullivan is appropriately devious as Rhonda Harper; and Marc Kay is warm, generous and hopeless as Henry’s cousin Mickey. A stand out of the performances, in an excellent class line up is Geoff Sirmai as Ahmed Zahedi who brings something fresh and clever to a role that could have easily been a cliché. It’s one of those lovely little plays where everyone is having a wonderful time, everyone loves their role, the script and the space.  The joy is infectious as the laughs flow easily and naturally, making sure everyone leaves with a smile on the face.

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The Good, The Bad and The Lawyer is currently showing at The Tap Gallery in Darlinghurst.  My review has come out just before the end of the season (I’ve been away) so be quick to grab your tickets here.

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Oh – and if you are still hankering for that Gina parody – I found the below in my travels. Enjoy!

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