Theatre review: Rhinestone Rex and Miss Monica, Ensemble Theatre

The return of a classic Williamson play about finding connection despite musical and personality differences.

It’s an age-old question: do opposites attract? More specifically, could you date someone who had completely different music tastes to you? David Williamson’s play Rhinestone Rex and Miss Monica explores this contested idea with oodles of wit and charm through the story of a very unlikely pair. 

Monica and Gary are two lonely middle-aged Sydneysiders who seem to be the opposite in every possible way. Monica is a cultured, middle-class woman living in inner Sydney. Once a revered classical violinist for the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, she has had her career suddenly halted due to tendonitis of the shoulder. Finding herself at a loss and with too much time on her hands, she decides to renovate her kitchen and enlists the help of tradie Gary to install her new IKEA kitchen. Gary is a typical Australian white male, and a country music aficionado, claiming to have won a prized Tamworth Golden Guitar award. Their differences are glaringly obvious from their first interaction. 

The pair’s main beef is they cannot stand each other’s musical taste. Gary calls Monica’s classical music ‘noise’ while she looks down her nose at his love of country and western. They also argue from the get-go about the renovations, with Monica stubbornly sticking to her plan. What follows is non-stop witty banter and clever pop culture references, interlaced with honesty and sadness.  

Glenn Hazeldine and Georgie Parker – revisiting the roles of Gary and Monica some 13 years after first performing them – are great as the pair, who are equal parts endearing and annoying. As a peculiar relationship develops, the audience witnesses the characters slowly let down their barriers and let each other in. They are both relatably scarred by life and hurt by past relationships that haven’t worked out.

Monica has a hard exterior and Gary feels compelled to fabricate his past, presumably out of fear that Monica won’t accept him the way he is. Underneath the razor-sharp cutting commentary and digs, there is a vulnerability about the characters – they are just two people who’ve been dragged through the ups and downs of existence, looking in their own dysfunctional ways for connection and love. 

Parker and Hazeldine give convincing performances, even if the occasional smile starts to creep across their faces mid-banter. It’s clear they are both having a good time on stage. The stage itself remains as the interior of Monica’s living room, except for one (thoroughly entertaining) bar scene. Set and costume designer Veronique Benett has nailed the middle-class apartment, as well as fitting costumes to suit both Gary and Monica’s characters.

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Music features heavily as the pair’s main source of disagreement and, judging by audience reaction, many could relate to not only the tunes themselves, but also the experience of having someone in your life whose taste in music drives you up the wall. The crowd were constantly amused, and the jokes clearly hit home. Williamson fans – and I suspect there were quite a few in the audience – would be pleased at Director Mark Kilmurry’s reimagining of the play. 

Rhinestone Rex and Miss Monica by David Williamson
Ensemble Theatre

Director: Mark Kilmurry
Set and Costume Designer: Veronique Benett
Lighting Designer: Trudy Dalgleish
Sound Designer: Daryl Wallis

Stage Manager: Ruth Hollows
Costume Supervisor: Renata Beslik
Cast: Glenn Hazeldine, Georgie Parker

Rhinestone Rex and Miss Monica will be performed until 29 April 2023.

Sarah Liversidge is a journalist and writer from Melbourne with various obsessions including politics, social issues and art in all its forms. She is currently completing a journalism degree at RMIT university where she is an editor at the student run publication, The Swanston Gazette.