By Tracey Trinder. Director: Francesca Savige. Ensemble Theatre, Kirribilli. 9 January – 26 February, 2022
Reviewed : 18 January, 2022
Tracey Trinder’s characters have graced the small screen for many years. Killing Katie: Confessions of a Book Club is her first stage play – and it’s a winner. The writing is clever, economic, perceptive, witty. The characters are tellingly recognisable yet lovably warm. The dialogue demands astute direction and fast, adroit delivery. It’s a director’s play and actors’ play rolled into one …
What an unbelievable shame that this incredibly talented writer did not live to see this premiere production of her very finely crafted play.
Tracey Trinder died tragically in 2021 as rehearsals for this production were underway. She had met the cast and the creatives. She had heard an inaugural reading; seen how her characters came to life so naturally. But, unfortunately, she will not see the delighted reactions of an audience or hear their laughter at her shrewd wit and carefully contrived one-liners.
The Ensemble Theatre’s production is a poignant tribute to Tracey Trinder’s legacy to Australian theatre. Director Francesca Savige and her cast bring Trinder’s characters to vibrant life in a production that is bright, colourful, fast-paced and extremely funny. Together they explore “female alliances, guilt and the mysterious forces that can make or break a friendship group” – especially that of a small, long-running and tightly controlled book club.
The club, run by up-tight Robyn (Kate Raison) at the home she shares with her up-bright mother Angela (Valerie Bader) has only two other members: over-sensitive Linda (Bron Lim) and over-energetic Sam (Georgina Symes). Robyn sees herself as the ‘leader’ – informed, in control. The others ‘bow’ to her prickly ego to keep the rather precarious peace. Then Sam decides to invite her twins’ speech pathologist, Katie (Chantelle Jamieson), to join the club. Katie is younger, lively, open and brutally honest. While the others seem to appreciate her stinging insights, Robyn feels threatened, and contrives to eject Katie from the group – with disastrous results.
Ten years pass and Robyn has written a book called, enigmatically – Killing Katie: Confessions of a Book Club. Linda and Sam, who have seldom seen each other since the book club broke up, hastily re-connect. Spurred by fear and guilt they re-live Katie’s effect on the book club as the date of the book launch approaches …
Bron Lim, as Linda, introduces the situation. Lim encapsulates the serious, complaisant Linda. It is she who reaches out to the audience, bringing them through the fourth wall to share her concern. Lim makes her anxious, eager to please, tactful and sensitive. She is watchful, quick to intervene, but a little too easy to manipulate – and in the manner of many women, quick to assume guilt.
Sam is a restless being – and Georgina Symes captures her edginess in a performance that is energy packed. Her Sam jogs to meetings, stretches during discussions, practises squats while talking on the phone. She is always late, and every meeting is interrupted by phone calls from her teenage daughter. Symes is lithe, very fit – her energy makes Sam totally plausible.
Valerie Bader is, as usual, a source of strength and experience. The Angela she creates is carefully layered, at first cooperative nurturer, later mischievous tease, but always aware and protective. She listens, watches and waits, patiently, for just the right moment to deliver the laughs that Trinder has so cleverly built into Angela’s lines. Her timing is impeccable.
As the irrepressible Katie, Chantelle Jamieson is just that – irrepressible. She hits the book club like a summer zephyr, blowing away the dust of Robyn’s oppressive ‘rules’ and lightening the atmosphere with contemporary, brazen observations. Jamieson’s Katie moves gracefully, grins cheekily, pushes boundaries, waits expectantly to see the effects – and always apologises impishly. This role is a gift, and Jamieson unwraps it deftly.
And what of Robyn? Kate Raison transforms herself into a rigid, repressive personality, firmly self-controlled, tightly controlling. The Robyn she creates seldom smiles – seldom sees any brightness or colour. She fears change; fears losing control. So the arrival of Katie is threatening – and Raison shows this in stiff, minimal gestures, tight lips, strained reactions. It is a tough part, and Raison plays it just as tightly as Trinder has written … from the beginning to the surprising end.
All of this is occurs under Savige’s skilful direction. She pays homage to Trinder with a production that explores all the nuances that the playwright has built into the plot: the characters’ flaws and frailties, the implications of their relationships, the group dynamics, the changes that are wrought. The blocking is firm; the tension taut; there is no extraneous action. Even the scene changes are tightly choreographed.
Designer Tobhiyah Stone Feller has designed a set that centres the action – with one or two more elaborate features! She has studied Trinder’s characters carefully and ensured their costumes mirror their personalities. Colour and texture are important in her design and add their own rhythm and cadence to the tempo – and humour – of the production.
It was special to be at the opening night of this first – and last – play by such a talented writer. It was special to see such a celebratory production of her work. Together the cast and the creatives, who first came together in 2019, have weathered the setbacks of two years of the pandemic and the tragic loss of their playwright.
“Despite the trials of the past couple of years,” Francesca Savige writes, “we are still together as a group and still finding laughter in the face of adversity. We hope to honour Tracey’s legacy and hear the echoes of her infectious laughter around the theatre.”
Amen to that.
The Tracey Trinder Playwright’s Award
The award, recently announced by the Ensemble Theatre, is for an outstanding unproduced
comedy or comedy drama written by a woman playwright including a trans and/or genderdiverse playwright. Tracey was a stage and screenwriter who had a unique voice in the world of comedy. This award honours her name and her commitment to women’s writing.
For more information, and to donate toward the award, please visit ensemble.com.au/support-us or contact their Philanthropy & Partnerships Manager Stephen Attfield on 02 8918 3400 or firstname.lastname@example.org
The award consists of a $7,500 cash prize, a development workshop, and a full production
as part of Ensemble Theatre’s annual season.
Details of the award, submission guidelines and entry dates will be available on the Ensemble website from February 2022.