Reviewed by: Helene Lambetsos
No Occasion To Written by David Weir, Directed by Bianca Stewart
“You cannot hope to bribe or twist, thank God, the British journalist. But seeing what the man will do unbribed, there’s no occasion to.”
As a journalist (in-training), watching No Occasion To was a particularly meta experience. To sit through a play which encompasses all the themes and ethics, trials and tribulations of the industry you’re hoping to be a part of makes it so much more consuming to watch than another story. I still would have loved the show even if the performance itself weren’t exceptional. But the fact that it was, well, that was just the cherry on top.
The Hayman Theatre’s production of David Weir’s No Occasion To, was a small affair, in all senses of the word. Minimal set, small cast, and a minute budget of $80. That being said, it had a big task: to open the Sunday Night season.
It follows the reunion of three Sydney journalists, meeting on the ten year anniversary of their Walkley Scoop of the Year award. But when they’re joined by a fourth man, who declines any offer to mention his name, the night takes a tense and awkward turn. I won’t spoil the ending of it, in case some other production of it pops up nearby and you want to catch it (sorry, but this one’s not running anymore). But what I will tell you, is the plays ends with a convoluted grey area of journalistic ethics and integrity, and how they fair when they collide with the everyday lives of real, honest human beings.
The small cast of four had a huge weight on their shoulders: to hold the attention of an audience all on their own, armed with only a few tables and chairs, for little under an hour. But I’m pleased to report, they were up to the challenge. Alistair Kennedy, as the mysterious stranger Richard Jamieson, was the perfect mix of endearing and ominous. He served, somehow, as both the comic relief, and the source of the ultimate tragedy. To watch him transition almost effortlessly from this humorous character with no social boundaries, to the power holder with a clear agenda for crashing the celebration, was a pleasure to watch.
And the three journalists weren’t without merit either. Chris McIntosh as Gary Kelly captured the naivety and innocence of his character quite well, which contrasted perfectly with the vicious and brutal Vicky Dolan (Olivia Dugandzic). I wasn’t sure if this was a natural tone or not, but Dugandzic’s voice had the clarity and authority of an extremely experienced and well-honed journalist. This is something I wish I could have seen from the other two actors: these little glimpses of journalistic training that I could have recognised. It was a subtle bit of realism. And finally, Jamie Turner as John Drysdale, arguably the most successful journalist of the three. And this showed in Turner’s performance: in moments when the other two would squabble, he was clearly in a position of power, and was able to portray a dominance well beyond his years as an actor.
The limitations placed on this productions were definitely a drawback. The minimal set meant the actors were very limited to where they could go, and what they could do, which often meant periods of stagnancy. They worked around this, by having each of them get up and leave to shout a round of drinks, or play the occasional game of chair swap. But I’d still be interested to see this exact same performance, cast, crew and all, with a bigger production quality.
But that’s not to say it didn’t work as it was. The cast and crew managed to turn lemon into lemonade, squeezing the constraints they were given into what was truly a very captivating play.