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

Banana Brain breeze

Yours Sincerely Banana Brain (NiKNaK Productions)

The Old Museum

October 25

“Yours Sincerely Banana Brain” is a musical comedy cabaret featuring original music by Lizzie Flynn, performed by The Copabananas (Peter Stewart on Piano, Rory Dollard on guitar, Reuben Johnson on bass and Andre Bonetti on percussion) alongside its characters on-stage at The Old Museum as part of the 2020 Queensland Cabaret Festival.

Her name’s not Lola, but rather Zara (Lizzie Flynn), who is penning a ‘Hey You’ message to a FB friend suggestion of her lifetime ago bestie. And so the audience is taken back to when the younger Zara (Ella Macronkanis) and Violet (Emma Whitefield) meet in circa mid to late 90s at uni on a day it rained and rained (#soundsfamiliar). The two share musical dreams, so after an open mic night performance, they are soon on a road trip to perform together in regional New South Wales, talking along the way about all the paces they want to see.

When songwriter Zara sets out to realise her travel ambitions overseas, the friends’ navigation of growing together and then growing apart as they start to grow older unfolds through sharing of letters. It’s a trope we know can work well (think “Love Letters”), but without much backstory to their friendship beyond its origin by them happening to be in the same place at the same time, it is difficult to become invested in the character journeys on an emotional level with such short exchanges after such little time together. Indeed, from a story perspective, the show seems somewhat rushed, meaning that we are given little in way of resolution or filler as to what has happened between then and now.

Dramatically, “Yours Sincerely Banana Brain” is a work of much potential to grow and develop into a more substantial cabaret show that fosters full audience connection. Musically, meanwhile, it is excellent. Although the songs don’t really move the action along, they do capture Zara’s emotional journey in relinquishing her lifeboat to grown-up life. ‘Happy’ is a The Go Betweens type of breezy highlight with catchy arrangement and melodic vocal realisation. Even if its rap lyric inclusions are not always clear, its sentiment still comes across and it is a wonderful to hear it in reprise in the show’s closing scene. Clearly, Macronkanis, in particular is an incredibly talented vocalist.

In complement of the idiosyncratic letter sign off that appears as the show’s title, there are some appealing quirks to the show’s nooks and crannies, like bunch of bananas atop the piano. There is also a careful attention to detail, in, for example, its costuming, which includes nod to the shared characterisation of the now and then Zara. Most notable, however, is the collection of original songs and stories that weave through the duo’s friendship. Not only does it make for an appealing cabaret premise, but it assists in its clever realisation through the framing device of its on-stage performances.