Emerald City (play)

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Emerald City
Emerald City Front Cover smallerised.JPG
Written byDavid Williamson
Date premiered1987
Original languageEnglish

Emerald City is a 1987 play by Australian playwright David Williamson, a satire about two entertainment industries: film and publishing.


The plays centres on the Rogers family, loosely modelled on Williamson's own. They have recently moved from Melbourne to Sydney. Colin is Australia's most successful screenwriter (like Williamson), but currently down on his luck. He doesn't want to make what he perceives as a "movie of the week" about Tony Sanzari and an amusement park hijacking that is offered to him by his agent, Elaine Ross, but a story about the coastwatchers of World War II, because his uncle was one, and it was Australia's great contribution to the war. His wife, Kate, is a book editor and wants to publish a novel by Aboriginal writer Kath Mitchell titled Black Rage, but her publisher, Ian Wall, says "Blacks don't sell books." They have three children, Penny, who has been frequenting a disco called Downmarket, Hannah, whose teachers say is depressed, and Sam, whom Colin fears Kate is encouraging to be gay.

Colin teams with a womanising hack writer named Mike McCord to work on Coastwatchers, who hates the idea, but wants his name on the film as co-writer because it's an instant status boost in the industry, even though he is primarily just typing dictation. When he hears of Kate's problem, he prank calls Ian Wall, accuses him of racism, and threatens that a group of militants will mob the publishing house if he doesn't publish Black Rage.

Coastwatchers proves a ratings disaster, so Mike latches onto Colin for another project, a rip-off of Miami Vice set in Australia and loaded with Australianisms. Malcolm Bennett, who usually finances Colin's productions, advises him to get back with Elaine because his project is "shit". "So is Miami Vice," Colin responds. "That's classy shit;" Malcolm tells him, "this is absolute shit." The difference is that the writers of Miami Vice are writing at the best of their abilities, while the fact that Colin is writing below his level is painfully obvious. During this time, Colin becomes attracted to Mike's girlfriend, Helen Davey, but ultimately draws the line in the friendship and avoids cheating on his wife.

Ultimately, Kath Mitchell is nominated for the Booker Prize, and Kate accompanies her and Ian Wall to the awards ceremony, though she does not win. Although Kate tells Colin that Ian looks like a "garden gnome" she admits to the audience (the play contains a great deal of direct to audience monologues) that she was unfaithful. A disillusioned Colin returns to Elaine Ross and accepts the project she offered him. Elaine calls Sydney "The Emerald city of Oz. Everyone comes here along their yellow brick roads looking for the answers to their problems and all they find are the demons within themselves."

The play takes many swipes at contemporary occurrences in the entertainment industry, such as Steven Spielberg's purchase of Australian writer Thomas Keneally's novel Schindler's Ark, which one character jokes will be made into a film in which the Jews are rescued by space aliens. At one point, Mike sums up the "great Australian novel", Henry Handel Richardson's The Fortunes of Richard Mahony, as "Doctor's marriage goes bad, he goes to the goldfields, gets gangrene and dies", to which Kate says "I don't think your synopsis quite does the book justice". To that, he simply dismisses it as a "downer".

Major performances[edit]

The play was first performed in Australia in 1987 by the Sydney Theatre Company[1]

It was premiered in the United States off-Broadway by the New York Theatre Workshop at the Perry Street Theatre in Greenwich Village in 1988.

The cast was as follows:

The other characters do not appear on-stage.


In 1988, Michael Jenkins directed a film version of the play.

Possible inspirations[edit]

Williamson and Denis Whitburn worked on a World War II miniseries with director Chris Thomson titled The Last Bastion, which ran on Network Ten. The running time was 360 minutes. (Academy Home Entertainment released a version that ran only 160 minutes to U.S. home video). The miniseries was much ballyhooed but was not well rated. Also, Williamson assisted his brother-in-law, Chris Löfvén, on Oz, an Australian rock musical film that retold The Wizard of Oz (1939 film) on the streets of Melbourne. The fictional Land of Oz rarely comes up in Australian conversation; the term is used almost exclusively as the nickname for one's own country.

The title of the play Emerald City has been used as a frequent moniker and nickname for the city of Sydney ever since the play was first presented. The title has been attributed to Brett Sheehy who was Sydney Theatre Company's Literary Manager when the play was written and first produced. The play's director Richard Wherrett recalls in his autobiography The Floor of Heaven that Sheehy suggested 'Emerald City' as the title, which Williamson accepted, adding the line of dialogue, "The Emerald city of Oz. Everyone comes here along their yellow brick roads looking for the answers to their problems and all they find are the demons within themselves.".[2]

The play was once called The Ingratiator.[3]


  1. ^ "STC tours the world". Sydney Theatre Company. 18 July 2012. Retrieved 18 August 2012.
  2. ^ Wherrett, Richard (2000) The Floor of Heaven, Hodder Headline, Sydney, p.213.
  3. ^ Cochrane, Peter (14 March 1997). "Williamson's World". The Sydney Morning Herald. p. 15.

External links[edit]