The Great Divide

The Great Divide
By David Williamson. Ensemble Theatre, Sydney. Directed by Mark Kilmurry. 8 March – 27 April 2024

After 50 years of bashing out best-selling plays, David Williamson announced his retirement in 2020. ‘I haven’t missed it one little bit,’ he announced on the eve of his final play Crunch Time at the Ensemble Theatre, venue for nearly half his output. 

But, wait, there’s more! Four years later, at 82, he’s written no less than three new plays. And here’s the first of them, received by the Ensemble faithful with all due honour, big laughs included.

The Great Divide is set in one of Williamson’s most idyllic spots, a coastal gem called Wallis Heads: think the most picturesque, unknown surfing beach on the West Coast. Here is Penny Poulter (Emma Diaz) and her 17-year-old daughter Rachel (Caitlin Burley) who plans to be Australia’s next champion surfer.

The mayor is Alan Bridger (John Wood), a former Senior Sergeant from Queensland, who now finds himself in uneasy collaboration with Alex Whittle (Georgie Parker), a no-one-can-stop-me, look-out-here-I-come wealthy business woman who has got big plans for the community.

The cast are completed by Grace Delahunty (Kate Raison), long-serving, long-suffering assistant to the lightning-fast Alex; and the local newspaper editor (James Lugton) who struggles to understand the actual truth in Alex’s multi-angled attack.


Fortunately Alex’s continued pressure on her assistant of 19 years has its limits, and Grace decides to back the residents against the bully, but not before the whole community is committed against bullying.

The whole attack of the wealthy invaders is carried out by Georgie Parker, and she registers big-time on the general hate list. But everyone’s against her, including her say-nothing assistant and, really, the mayor, so it’s pretty easy to dislike her. 

Easier to care about is the mother-daughter combination, and here Emma Diaz and Caitlin Burley make huge waves, so much so that I sometimes wanted their scenes to continue, to hell with the rest. The youthful-looking Caitlin makes a smashing debut at the Ensemble.

The setting by James Browne is complex. Through shuttered windows loomed seven slabs of huge buildings, cutting the beach and everything else from our view. If this was the plan for Wallis Heads, I’m pretty certain nobody would have complained when it failed. 

Onwards, Young Williamson! Another 49 plays to follow!

Frank Hatherley

Photographer: Brett Boardman

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