Watching Centenary Theatre’s production of David Williamson’s “Brilliant Lies” the plot of which revolves around a sexual harassment suit my mind was drawn by the parallel to the witchhunts of early modern Europe.
At first glance it seems unusual, but there is a common theme. In those days, a supposed witch’s fate often rested on the “my word against yours” testimony of the alleged victim. With no witnesses present, it could neither be proven or disproven that the “witch” really was guilty. Many innocent people lost their lives because of the motives of unscrupulous “victims”.
Hence the parallel to “Brilliant Lies”. Susy (Brigette Abela) takes up a case of sexual harassment against her former boss Gary (Graham Thomas). As her lawyer Marion (Jenny Kirby) says, it sounds like a clear cut case. But, of course, there wouldn’t be a play if it was. There are no witnesses, so it is very much a case of “my word against yours”.
Gary may be sleazy, but Susy is hardly a saint. A nightclubbing party girl, she dresses in clothes any grandmother would describe as “inappropriate”, and employs language that would make a sailor blush. And as her moralistic, born-again Christian brother Paul (excellently played by Peter Luxton) says, “She tells brilliant lies”.
Williamson deliberately leaves the truth behind this event blurred. The audience is led to believe Susy to begin with, then to openly distrust her, then feel some sort of sympathy by the play’s end. Perceptions of Gary follow similar trends. We are ready to believe him as the lying, abusive, bastard boss and hate him as such. He certainly wins no friends with his treatment of women, and later, of his colleague Vince (Hugh Buckham). However, he is as much victim as Susy is, and we are left feeling mainly pity for him.
The subplot involves that of Susy, Paul, their proudly feminist sister Katy (Bianca Cole) and their relationship with their alcoholic bankrupt father Brian (Rod Felsch). They used to be a rich family, but Brian lost it all on incorrect stock market predictions. Now penniless and with a heart condition, he disapproves of Katy’s lesbiansim, Paul’s Christianity and Susy’s greed. However he was no angel himself, and much of Act 2 concerns Susy and Katy trying to reconcile their troubled childhood.
The play is well-cast and the actors seem to relish playing their well-drawn roles. Particularly good were Bianca Cole as Katy, whose efficient feminism makes her all the more likeable a character; Rod Felsch as the weary but cheery Brian; and Peter Luxton as Paul, the Christian comic relief, whose moral insistence somehow makes him more a part of the dysfunctional family.
Graham Thomas and Hugh Buckham as Gary and Vince give good performances. They are initially allies, but Vince’s confusion soon turns into belief in Gary’s guilt, and Buckman plays the unwitting player nicely. Thomas, who also directed the play, plays Gary as both sleazy and suffering.
The set and the lighting design were well-suited to the Chelmer Community Centre. The stage was divided in three to represent Katy and Susy’s flat, Marion’s office and the foyer of Gary and Vince’s business. The foyer was not used as often as the other two areas, but it suited the play to have it there for balance. It also disposed of the problem of messy set changes.
The cast dealt well with numerous costume changes, especially Abela, who as Susy had to be in all manner of outfits (only some tight and revealing). The pace was brisk, and all lines were snappy and well delivered. It moved along nicely, running to just over two hours, including interval.
Overall, Centenary Players has produced a faithful adaptation of Williamson’s play, one that leaves you thinking about the lines where truth and lies blur. Or, if you’re a lonely critic, of witchhunts in Europe 400 years ago.