Extracts from Volume II of My Top Shelf
David Williamson, 1974
Currency Press, 1974; rebound in quarter green leather with marbled cloth boars and title ‘STORK’ in gold on orange leather label on spine.
Twice in my life I have walked out of a cinema in tears for the same reason. Once was in 1997 after watching The Castle. The other time was nearly forty years before that after watching the film Stork. I ran into a mate who asked what was going on. ‘I have just seen some bastard put this bloody country on the screen.’ Each occasion was a revelation – and a comforting one.
The first film was an adaptation of the play The Coming of Stork by David Williamson. The seventies saw an explosion of Australian theatre as the nation began to throw off what it called its ‘cultural cringe.’ It was no coincidence that this happened when the nation also sought under Gough Whitlam to get past the dead hand of a defeatist political mediocrity and subservience that took us into the horror of the Vietnam War. The young playwright, David Williamson, was perfectly placed to express what educated people called the zeitgeist of that time in Australia. He was also perfectly placed to comment on the milieu that happened to present most of his audience. The three plays in this book – The Coming of Stork, Jugglers Three, and What if You Died Tomorrow – were a central part of something resembling a birth.
David Williamson was born in 1942, the son of a bank officer. He took most of his schooling in Bairnsdale in western Victoria, and graduated in mechanical engineering at Monash University, Victoria’s second university. The Coming of Stork was his first full length play.
In the Preface to this book, the author says:
The Coming of Stork is played out among graduate technologists, a group known for brazen and rather awkward openness as far as sexual matters are concerned, but an almost complete lack of communication concerning ambitions, fears, hopes, and joys. It is a cynical milieu, but not without a certain reductive biting humour and heavily disguised compassion…..In these plays, content is more important than style. There are no mechanical theatrical devices….My writing career was greatly helped by the unrelenting and faultlessly naturalistic production given to The Coming of Stork at La Mama, which reproduced the atmosphere of flat sharing males with gripping authenticity and held audiences engrossed despite glaring weaknesses in that rough first draft. The occasions when I have been most disappointed with productions of my plays have been when the playing style has degenerated into the farcical. They all demand a meticulously naturalistic acting style if the audience are to retain their involvement.
Stork, the film, featured Bruce Spence as Stork and Jacqui Weaver as the promiscuous but sumptuous Anna. There are also Clyde and West who are at a loss what to do in life, but who meet favour with Anna, and Tony, who is both bourgeois and on the make. Stork is tall, ungainly, accident prone and as man to be someone imprisoned in his own youth. He refuses to grow up. Like Falstaff, it is his failings that make him so engaging. Stork in my view is one of the great constructs of the Australian stage. Here is a sample.
Stork: Did you fake it!
Anna: No. Of course not.
Stork: Then what are you talking about?
Anna: I never, er, have much, er, trouble.
Stork: Never have much trouble?
Anna: It’s pretty, er, easy for me to, er, respond.
Stork: So it was nothing to do with the feeling between us?
Anna: Of course it was.
Stork: And nothing to do with my virility?
Anna: Of course it was.
Stork: Pretty easy.
Anna: I must be wired up the right way.
Anna: Clyde’s very clever, but what I’m saying is that it really doesn’t make any difference.
Stork: What d’ you mean, very clever?
Anna: At, er, sustaining himself, but sometimes I’d rather just have one orgasm than a string of them.
Stork: A string of them?
Anna: Clyde’s, er, quite good at, er, sustaining himself.
Stork: I didn’t realise I was up against such talented opposition.
Anna: I’d like our relationship to continue, Stork.
Stork: You’ve dealt a death blow to my masculinity, Anna. It may never rise again.
Anna: I’m terribly fond of you, Stork. The trouble is that I’m terribly fond of Clive and my, er, other friend too.
Stork: (sarcastically): Clyde and your other friend and me. What about Westy?
Anna: (alarmed): Who told you about Westy?
Well, there you have aftermath of the sixties and the flower power crowd. That side of university life was not revealed to me.
This play is nearly fifty years old. Either because of changes in customs and manners, or because this was the author’s first play, a lot of it looks gauche, if not vulgar now, and some parts may need to be adjusted for modern audiences. But, the capacity of the play to show us as we are still holds. And that is what I understand the fundamental role of the playwright to be to carry out.