Theatre review: Family Values, Queensland Theatre

All values and opinions are brought to the table at this family gathering.

Queensland Theatre kicks off its 2023 season with a David Williamson play that delves deeper than the surface noise of a normal family drama. It’s a cross-examination of the state of our nation that hits both close to home and far offshore. 

Family Values centres on Roger (Peter Kowitz), a retired court judge, who wants nothing more than to have all his family around him for his 70th birthday. The tribe consists of his wife Sue (Andrea Moor) and their three children Emily (Amy Ingram), Lisa (Helen Cassidy) and Michael (Leon Cain).

But no family get together is that simple. Emily and Lisa bring both unwanted and unexpected guests, the unwanted being Emily’s fiancée and Border Force boss, Noeline (Jodie Le Vesconte), and the unexpected is Saba (Sepi Burgiani), an escaped detainee from Nauru Lisa is trying to help hide from authorities. 

All their baggage is brought inside and temper tantrums ensue. Anger breaks out and old family traumas break free when adults revert back into childish ways, playing into family dynamics they established in years past. 

But what’s really going on under the arguments? Williamson weaves comedy and tragedy into a web of thoughts and beliefs, seemingly packing every problem possible into this play. From marriage equality to refugee rights, religious extremists, male entitlement, white privilege, politics and power, it is a 90-minute onslaught of opinions. 

Lee Lewis directs this political piece in a way that makes the audience feel they are part of the family too. Renée Mulder’s set uses the intimacy of the Bille Brown Theatre to invite us into the dining room.  

The play really turns up the heat when Emily and Nolene arrive, with all the performances stronger when the full ensemble are on stage. 

Burgiani shatters the family values with Saba’s monologue describing her treatment in Iran, Nauru and then Australia, but it is earlier on – when tears silently fall down her cheeks as Nolene is hammering home her opinion on asylum seekers – that the heart of the play is revealed. These small quiet moments, the emotion under the opinions, really make this production.

Mum saves the day as always, with Sue asking for more compassion to the discourse, and the play takes us to a hopeful end that each and every one of us may take on some responsibility for the way society is, and the way it is going.

Read: Theatre review: Wittenoom, Red Stitch Actors Theatre

Family Values is a thought-provoking play asking its audience to question their own family values and consider that perhaps changing the world begins at our own dinner table.

Family Values by David Williamson
Presented by Queensland Theatre
Bille Brown Theatre, Brisbane

Director: Lee Lewis
Set and Costume Designer: Renée Mulder
Lighting Designer: Benjamin Brockman
Composer/ Sound Designer: Tony Brumpton
Stage Manager: Grant Gravener
Assistant Stage Manager: Bridget O’Brien
Cast: Sepi Burgiani, Leon Cain, Helen Cassidy, Amy Ingram, Peter Kowitz, Jodie Le Vesconte, Andrea Moo
Tickets: from $69

Family Values will be performed until 25 February 2023.

Lisette Drew is a writer, theatre maker and youth literature advocate, who has worked nationally and overseas on over 50 theatrical productions. Her play, Breakwater, was shortlisted for two playwriting awards and her novel The Cloud Factory was longlisted for The Hawkeye Prize. In 2022 she received a Kill Your Darlings Mentorship and was a City of Melbourne Writer-in-Residence. Lisette shares her love for stories and storytelling running writing and theatre workshops for children.