By Beau Willimon.
Directed by Kim Durban.
With Brett Cousins, Tim Potter, David Whiteley, Adrian Dean, Kurt Geyer, Lucy Honigman & Karen Roberts,
Set: Peter Mumford
Lighting: Stelios Karagiannis
Sound Russell Lloyd
Stage Manager: Emma Hale
ELIZABETHAN revenge tragedy meets Jacobean political thriller in Farragut North, a savage portrait of an American primary campaign brim full of dirty tricks, sex scandal, and internecine rivalry. And when the reputations are all destroyed, there’s even a Fortinbras waiting to step over the political scalps.
Writer Beau Willimon worked for the failed 2004 Howard Dean presidential campaign, and his insight into the daily lives of the staff members brings authenticity to the script. At times it feels like watching a stage version of series seven of The West Wing – albeit without the sentimental optimism.
The danger with a play full of political egos on stage is that the actors will overwhelm the audience, but director Kim Durban is careful to create a spectrum of characters, so that each makes room for the other.
Brett Cousins gives one of his best performances as the cocksure press secretary Stephen Bellamy. Cousins maintains energy throughout, by turns arrogant, then increasingly desperate as his career spins out of control.
David Whiteley turns in a subdued but subtle portrait of world-weary campaign manager Paul Zara, while newcomer Lucy Honigman is perfect as the obligatory honey-trap intern, both precocious and naïve.
The one character who is perhaps underplayed is Kurt Geyer’s Tom Duffy, the rival campaign manager who comes across more kindly uncle than hard-bitten political animal.
Red Stitch’s production crew deliver another effective and efficient design, making it a good season opener for the company.
Martin Ball, The Age (08/02/10)
THE zesty dialogue crackles with wit and adrenalin in Farragut North, by Beau Willimon.
The play dives headlong into the secretive world of a political campaign to choose the US Democratic presidential candidate. It is a world of spin doctors, ambitious interns, fawning assistants, cut-throat journalists and competing party factions.
If you’re a West Wing fan, you’ll know an hour is a very long time in politics. Careers and reputations are ruined in minutes with an ill-chosen word or a secret meeting.
Willimon worked on political campaigns, including that of Senator Hillary Clinton, and his knowledge gives authenticity to his avengers’ tragedy-style plotting. Give them swords and kings to overthrow and it could be Shakespeare.
Brett Cousins is driven and hard-headed as Stephen, 25-year-old press secretary for a presidential candidate, Morris. David Whiteley plays, with battle-weary assurance, Stephen’s boss Paul, the campaign warhorse who demands loyalty (though Whiteley appears a little too fit and youthful).
Stephen wrangles voracious Times journalist Ida, played with steely determination by Karen Roberts. Lucy Honigman is sassy and confident as a clever intern, Molly, who seduces her bosses. Tim Potter is marvellously understated as the lurking deputy press secretary, Ben, who Stephen ignores to his detriment.
Their candidate looks set to win – until the opposition’s campaign manager, Tom (Kurt Geyer) enters the scene.
Willimon’s script is cleverly crafted with plenty of twists. Kim Durban’s direction of this accomplished cast is assured. Peter Mumford’s design is cool and flexible and the entire production gives the impression of a rarefied world of conspiracy and menace. This play is funny, challenging, superbly acted and inventively plotted. Aaron Sorkin must be jealous!