Up for Grabs (play)

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Up for Grabs
Up for grabs.jpg
Written by David Williamson
Genre Theatre play

Up For Grabs (2000) is a play by Australian playwright David Williamson.

Set in the booming international art market from 1990, which was fuelled by the dot com boom, it involves scenes of an alternate sexual nature. Not seen critically as one of Williamson strongest plays, it is a play of bad manners, an analysis of how wealth and power can corrupt the arts.[1]

The London West End theatre version saw Madonna, billed as 'Madonna Ritchie', starring on stage for the third time in her career, to overall poor critical review of her technical ability and was even described as "the evening's biggest disappointment" by one.[2][3][4][5]


Williamson's play is about the booming international art market from 1990 to the present. In Australia in 1990, total art sales at auction were less than $17 million, by 1995 $27 million, by 1999 to $70 million and in 2002 worth more than $90 million. According to investment analysts, art has been the fourth best-performing asset in Australia for the ten years to 2002. This pushed contemporary Australian art prices to new highs, with Brett Whiteley's "The Jacaranda Tree" fetching $1.9 million in 1999[6]

The boom was fuelled by the Dot com boom years, and Williamson also address six of the seven deadly sins (Pride, Lust, Avarice (Greed), Envy, Wrath, Gluttony), to address the "anything goes" personal and sexual excesses of the time. A play of bad manners, an analysis of how wealth and power can corrupt the arts.[1]

The plot[edit]

The story deals with the efforts of Simone, a young fledgling art dealer, to sell a painting by Australian artist Brett Whitely for a record $2 million and thereby establish herself at the “big end of town”. This ambition turns to desperation when she signs a contract guaranteeing this price, putting both her own and her partner Gerry's assets on the line.

Simone, who has a small list of clients with the sort of money needed for this kind of transaction, sets up an unofficial auction to push up the price. Her prospective buyers include Dawn Grey, a corporate art buyer still frustrated that she did not have what it takes to be a great artist; Kel and Mindy, a young dotcom couple with more money than sense; and Manny and Felicity, a wealthy but unhappy couple looking for a suitable trophy.

The game of playing each against all becomes increasingly sticky for the inexperienced Simone, who ends up compromising herself sexually on more than one occasion: “You are a hooker aren't you? You're trying to sell me something for more than it's worth and you'll do anything to get your price,” says Manny. Starting out with pretensions as an art dealer of integrity, Simone abandons herself to the whims of her clients, hoping that this will clinch the deal.

When the moment calls for honesty, Simone decides to warn the naïve Mindy, who has genuinely fallen in love with the art dealer, that the Whitely is grossly over-priced. Simone advises her not to put in a bid, but Manny has decided to pull out of the bidding, leaving her dangling dangerously close to bankruptcy.

In the end Simone gets her price from the corporate art buyer, Dawn Grey, who is happy to see her clients pay $2 million as a kind of vengeful act against the corporate world. While Simone doesn't lose a cent, she doesn't make anything either. She tells the audience that the lessons learnt are priceless and economic success is guaranteed because the sale will bring other paintings and clients her way. She has made it to the “big end of town”.


  • 2001 Australian production, including review
  • 2002 London West End theatre production starring Madonna, who made her Westend debut in the production.[7] Relocated from Sydney to New York City with the object of desire a Jackson Pollock and a Brett Whiteley. A critic's comment was to use in his review a line from the play:"If you think a big marketing budget will sell any old junk, you'd be wrong. It's got to be quality junk."[5][8][9]
  • 2016 Australian production in Hobart, staged at the Playhouse Theatre by Hobart Repertory Theatre Society.

West End version[edit]

Staged at Wyndhams Theatre in London, with front stall tickets costing £37.50, the final performance commenced on Saturday 13 July 2002 starting at 8.00pm. A play which lasted on stage for 2 hours 15 minutes including one interval of approximately 15 minutes. The programme originally bought for £3 has now become a very collectible item.[citation needed]

Cast in order of appearance

David Williamson later reflected on the experience:

I was there for the first week of rehearsals in London when Madonna was playing the lead role... It was fascinating to see how she operated. She was very aware of her power and exercised it and demanded rewrites that she assumed would suit her character. I either did them or the play didn’t go on. I think the Australian version of the play was probably better.[10]


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