David Williamson AO b.1942

David Williamson

David Williamson

David Keith Williamson was born in Melbourne on 24 February 1942 and brought up in Bairnsdale.

His first play, The Indecent Exposure of Anthony East, was produced by the Tin Alley Players at Melbourne University’s Union Theatre in 1968.

Williamson’s career as a dramatist really began when La Mama produced three of his short plays and The Coming of Stork in 1970, followed by The Removalists in 1971.

 

‘Wow! Now here’s a play!’

John Bell was heading the Nimrod Theatre in Sydney when he first encountered the work of David Williamson. ‘We were all pretty busy and not well organised when it came to play reading. Some scripts languished for months, or got lost, and we were frequently bawled out by frustrated or disappointed playwrights. Anna [Anna Volska, his actor wife] helped me sort through the pile of scripts and one night yelled out, “Wow! Now here’s a play!” – or words to that effect. It was called The Removalists by a Melbourne writer, David Williamson. I concurred with Anna’s judgement and read the play in one sitting. In fact I couldn’t put it down. Here was an authentic Australian voice with a wry, mor­dant – and hilarious – sense of theatre. David’s ear for colloquial idiom was uncanny and this explains the scale of his initial success, which he followed through with Don’s Party, A Handful of Friends, The Club and others. Australian audiences were thrilled with the authenticity of his mimicry as well as the gallery of his most successful characters, all variants of the likeable arch-bastard along the lines of Barry Humphries’ Les Patterson. I went to Melbourne to see The Removalists at the tiny La Mama, where David himself was playing the Removal­ist. With him in the cast was his future wife, Kristin, while Bruce Spence and Peter Cummins played the two cops. Naturally David was delighted that his play was to get an airing elsewhere than La Mama. In Sydney it caused a sensation.’

David Keith Williamson was born in Melbourne on 24 February 1942 and brought up in Bairnsdale. He studied mechanical engineering and psychology at the University of Melbourne and Monash University, graduating in mechanical engineering in 1964. He lectured in both these subjects and worked as a design engineer for General Motors.

In those early days he had written ‘subversive sketches’ for university revues and for George Whaley’s Emerald Hill Theatre Company in South Melbourne. His first play, The Indecent Exposure of Anthony East, was produced by the Tin Alley Players at Melbourne University’s Union Theatre in 1968.

Williamson’s career as a dramatist really began when La Mama produced three of his short plays and The Coming of Stork in 1970, followed by The Removalists in 1971. His first commercial success, this won an Australian Writers’ Guild Awgie Award and shared in the British George Devine Award. After the triumph of Don’s Party at the Pram Factory in 1971, Williamson decided to concentrate on writing for the theatre.

With the production in Sydney of The Removalists and Don’s Party, he moved into the theatrical ‘mainstream’. Almost all his plays were written about – and for – the educated, affluent, liberal-minded middle class. They focus on the rituals of social behaviour with wit, and with realistic, recognisable settings, characters and dialogue.

His prolific output far exceeds that of any other contemporary Australian dramatist, and his commercial success in unmatched.

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Biographical references

John Bell: The Time of My Life, Allen and Unwin, 2002
Katharine Brisbane: ‘David Williamson AO’, in Companion to Theatre in Australia, Currency Press, 1995
Brian Kiernan: David Williamson – A Writing Career, William Heinemann Australia, 1990
Kristin Williamson: David Williamson – Behind the Scenes.Viking/Penguin, 2009