The West

Muckraking has only just begun
Richard Roxburgh as Cleaver Greene in Rake. Picture: Ben Timony.

The Catherine wheel behind the title in Rake's opening sequence seems to spin even more brightly at the start of the second season and collapse sooner and more totally.

It is all an illusion, of course, but those viewers who thought lawyer Cleaver Greene's life was a mess at the end of series one have not seen anything yet.

Richard Roxburgh, who plays Greene, thinks the Catherine wheel image is very apposite. "I guess people thought we might have explored the lower depths of Cleaver's life the first time round but we actually succeed in surpassing that this time," he says.

"Is there anything Cleaver won't do? Well, we haven't really found it yet. We are keeping our eyes peeled."

The first episode of Rake season two starts with Cleaver having wild sex in a limousine with a leading political figure and ends with him being set up for cocaine possession.

On the way through he defends a devout Muslim woman charged with helping her husband in his attempt to blow up Parliament.

It is the same mix of outrageous behaviour - most of it by Cleaver - alongside genuine legal issues argued with skill.

Rake is written by Peter Duncan and Andrew Knight but Roxburgh, as a creator of the show and one of the producers, is closely involved in its creation.

Roxburgh says it is the quality of the final scripts which makes it easy to get people of the calibre of Toni Collette, Jack Thompson and Garry McDonald to take small roles.

The cast lists from the two series of Rake read like a who's who of Australian drama.

McDonald appears in the second episode of the new series, playing a teacher protesting at the misuse of the English language, particularly by politicians and big business.

His character's story is both hilarious and heartbreaking. Roxburgh describes it as an illustration of how the law can be a brutal and cruel taskmaster, something that comes into play often in this series of Rake and takes a toll on Cleaver.

"In that episode, a powerful man who has done a genuinely despicable thing gets off scot-free whereas the Garry McDonald character, who is the crusader for intelligent use of the English language, ends up in incredibly hot water," he says.

All of this has an impact on Cleaver, particularly at a time when his one loyal friend, Barney, is trying to cut him out of his life. "Cleaver is a defence lawyer and he would know that an enormous number of the people that he goes in to bat for are guilty," Roxburgh says. "So if you then get those people off, even if your success rate is only 50 per cent, are you doing society a favour?

"I don't know.

"I suppose there is no other system of law that I can think of that does it better, but the law is an ass."

He says that the role of Cleaver Greene in Rake was undoubtedly one of his career highlights, in part because he was so invested in the show as an actor, co-producer and creator.

The actor has just returned from New York where he was in the Sydney Theatre Company's production of Uncle Vanya. Starring Cate Blanchett and with Hugo Weaving, Jacki Weaver and John Bell, it was part of the city's Lincoln Centre Festival.

Reviews of the play were glowing and Roxburgh describes the experience as "absolutely amazing".

"It was one of those moments in your life when you are working on a stage that some of your great heroes have trodden and indeed you are playing to a revolving door of luminaries of the world we are involved in, a lot of whom come backstage after the show. I absolutely loved it," he says.

"It was fantastic that it was a production that flew in the face of many expectations of what Chekhov could offer, did it so well and enthused people so much, and not just critics.

"It was a kind of 'lifting the roof off the house' feeling every time that audience jumped up each night."

It has renewed Roxburgh's interest in the theatre and he hopes to do more work with the STC but first plans some down time at home, spending time with his wife and two sons and doing some painting.

"I tell the story how half an hour before the curtain went up on our first night in New York I was doing a load of my son's smalls at the theatre laundry, wondering what happened to the glamour," he says.

Rake starts Thursday at 8.30pm on ABC1.

The West Australian

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