By Carly Fisher
Belvoir’s final show of the 2019 season Packer and Sons opened this week and has left me questioning my opinions of the show since. Again divided, the show was well executed and demonstrated considerable flow considering the complexity of temporal jumps throughout the show, and yet, I cannot help but be somewhat disappointed at both the lack of new information presented about one of Australia’s most notorious families and my own questions of the programming decision of this piece. Let me elaborate…
Of all companies in Sydney, I would argue that no one kicked off 2019 with a bigger bang than Belvoir and their astonishing triumph of a piece, Counting and Cracking. We had new Australian stories taking to the stage that celebrated the diversity of the Australian experience and this seemed to be an important pinpoint of Belvoir’s 2019 season that they carried through both upstairs and through their 25A program downstairs – what does a 2019 world full of diversity (and women) look like and how can we best tell those stories. And Belvoir…you were doing really well! So I can’t help but feel disappointed by this, for lack of a better word, safe, choice to end the season that reflects the Australian stories that for so long have already had a place on our stages – that of the wealthy, white, middle-age man. Even programmed at a different time of year this may not have felt so jarringly disappointing, but Belvoir, take your enormous success from Counting and Cracking as a guide – we are hungry for those stories and for that kind of theatrical experience (150+ shows later and it is still comfortably in my top 3 Australian shows of 2019!). Quite frankly, this was just totally predictable and very Belvoir of bygone years.
Moving away from the programming, it was on and I am glad that this is one that I saw because I was exceptionally impressed by Director Eamon Flack’s complete command of the consistently changing time periods and the use of actors doubling into those characters made for some exciting theatrical moments of transition and transformation. Whilst I felt some of the choices made were over stylized and contrived (for example but not limited to having Brandon McClelland who had played Clyde throughout deliver flowers in a somber walk around the stage at the exact moment they spoke of Clyde’s death), as a whole, Flack’s comfortability in this text was clear and he has obviously led this cast was a clear vision and has achieved a very smooth overall production.
Stealing the show for me were Josh McConville as James Packer and a Young Kerry Packer and Brandon McClelland as Clyde Packer. Each gave such a sense of humanity to these tough Packer men and a complexity to the relationships that they had with each other as brothers and with their father as well. McClelland was perfectly refined throughout offering a strong and commanding presence on stage, whilst McConville really led the cast through much of the temporal shifts and great changes through Kerry himself from young and hopeless to business tycoon. McConville found a great balance between the heat and the heart of each of his characters that I felt was missing from some performances.
As both Frank and an older Kerry Packer, John Howard seemed completely comfortable in assuming this patriarchal role and he did so with the gusto we would all expect from Howard in such a role. I felt that Howard perhaps played, particularly Kerry, a little too angry too consistently, however it was a minor problem – it was a clear choice and worked within the scenes.
Extremely well cast as Lachlan Murdoch and a young Rupert Murdoch, Nick Bartlett rose to the challenge of taking on these media tycoons and excelled, especially as Lachlan whose refine and poised positioning was so telling of the young Murdoch’s upbringing and spoke volumes to his involvement in the business dealings being discussed. It was well played and a joy to watch. As an older Rupert Murdoch and others, John Gaden, a true legend of the Sydney theatre scene felt, honestly, under-utilized. Of course he conducted each of his roles with diligence and a swift but still graceful stance as the older Murdoch (that he is often not portrayed with) but I wish we would have seen Gaden take on a bit more oomph.
So where did this production really let me down?
Tommy Murphy’s script was solid but told us nothing new of the Packers which seemed a missed opportunity. With no new reveals or information, really, if you are familiar at all with the Packers and with the One.Tel deal, you’re not heading into this to learn anything you don’t already know.
Though I understood the necessity of a basic and non-descript set by Romaine Harper, I felt that the incredibly over the top number of props against that simplicity of set was distracting and unnecessary. Every single scene had a new prop or set that left no room for the audience to imagine anything at all. We could have used half the props, still understood the storyline completely and not needed to watch so many large pieces go on and off stage – some without having yet been interacted with. The collection of neat and high end suits however was slick on stage so Harper’s costuming here was a success.
Much of the show was very angry and very loud and yet still flat in energy at times which seemed disappointing. Perhaps a very basic actor comment, but it didn’t feel like the first time much of this was being said and this contributed to that energy level. For an opening night, I would have expected a bit more spark from the actors across the board, rather than just a couple carrying that sense of the new for the whole team.
On the flip side, Nick Schlieper’s lighting was an incredibly effective tool in time and place setting as well as in working clearly with Eamon to achieve that wonderful fluidity in the piece. Compounded by Alan John’s compositions and Steve Francis and David Bergman’s sound designs, all of which added an eerie at times yet formidable backing to the action, the technical designs across the board were very strong.
So, another show this month that leaves me torn. I can really appreciate and celebrate the successes that this show had. And they did have many. But ultimately, I left disappointed by not having learnt anything new and questioning the timing of seeing this piece – a piece that once again really was by the boys club, about the boys club, for the boys club.
Image Credit: Brett Boardman
All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.