Family portraits exposed

Portraits (Observatory Theatre)

The Old Museum

October 1 – 2

Audience engagement in a theatrical work can come from emotional reaction as much as resonance, which means that responses can be evoked from even unfavourable characters. This is what happens in experience of Lachlan Driscoll’s “Portraits”, whose story centres around a family of largely unlikeable characters. The play, which is presented by new independent theatre company, Observatory Theatre reveals their faults from early on; having suffered a stroke, family patriarch Ivan Godbold (James Hogan) is being cared for by his youngest, and in his words, deadbeat, child, son Martin (Emile Regano in a measured performance, very different to his recent appearance in Growl Theatre’s “Boeing Boeing”), who has been living in the shadow of his philanthropist father and now wants to take over the machine that is the family corporation, despite a looming criminal investigation.

Ivan is angry and fearful of the effect of mutinous rats upon his legacy, however, when Martin’s screechy sister Josephine (Rebecca Day) returns to the family fold after an apparent years-long absence, attention turns to issues of family pride and the expectation the comes with the surname Godbold, cemented by years of inter-generational discipline. Clearly, there is a lot going on in the 70-minute work. And all is soon apparently not as it seems, as after some subtle hints, the narrative takes a turn to reveal the reality of what has happened to affect the family dynamic so irreparably. As Ivan foreshadows in an earlier flashback, “time will tell” as to real reason for kindergarten aide Josephine’s visit.

Time is a core component of the work’s themes, effectively evoked by Driscoll’s lighting design which helps transition the audience between the story’s present and its flashback scenes to Ivan’s past rage as a powerful businessman attempting to control the company’s whistle blower situation. Its site-specific staging at the historic, stately Old Museum offers a unique immersive-style experience, with Gabby Fitzgerald’s surround sound design working to construct the fictional Godbold mansion. Impressive as the space is, however, it’s vastness does little to enhance what is essentially an intimate story of a fractured family, disjointed due to domestic abuse.

“Portraits” offers a sophisticated take on complicated and important themes like choices, consequences, regret and even religion. Its script is well written; this is especially evident in its dialogue between the Godbold siblings which naturally transforms from banter to intense confrontation reflecting the range of their emotions as the story’s reality unfolds. More moments of light and shade beyond just their escalating anger could maybe help more clearly establish details of the twisting storyline to aid audience members in appreciating the nuance of its complications, however, ultimately the story of the family’s crumbling empire makes for an intellectually-engaging expose of the price of legacy.  

Photos c/o –  Bethany Moore

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