Sunday 26 February 2023

MY FATHER'S STORY: Theatre Review

 What: My Father's Story
When: 25 February 2023
Where: La Mama Courthouse
Written and directed by: Marty Monstar
Performed by: Ian Rooney
Lighting and Sound by: Giovanna Yate Gonzales
Ian Rooney - photo by Marty Monstar

A large portion of the current population in Australia now fall into the category of senior citizens. What this means is we are in danger of losing a lot of our witnessed history and stories. There are many initiatives taking place to try and capture those stories and one such project has been started by Ballarat writer Marty Monstar. Who better for him to begin this journey with than his very own father? My Father's Story, which played for one performance only at La Mama Courthouse is exactly what it says on the label, his father's story as told to him by his father, Neville.

The format is clean and simple which is important as the intention is to take the show on a regional tour. Performed by Ian Rooney, we find Neville asleep on his armchair with a David Attenborough documentary playing on the TV. Neville wakes up, acknowledges the audience and starts telling us his story. He begins with his childhood, and we listen as he grows up, leaves school, gets his first job, and starts his first business. We travel through his successes and failures, loves and losses, and witness his love and devotion to his wife. 

I read a review of a previous event from Monstar which described his style as Australian colloquial and I would concur. It is kind of sweet to travel through the conversational vernacular of that white Australian patois where men were mates or codgers, and people sat on their verandas sharing a yarn in the cooling evening over a six pack of whichever brew is your choice. 

Tales of workplace pranks and lover's nick names are made even more beautiful by a gentle and authentic performance by Rooney. Rooney has an air about him which is remarkably similar to Jim Broadbent. With similar piercing blue eyes, ready smile and affable demeanour Rooney makes us want to draw nearer and listen to the tales he wants to tell. My one criticism is that authenticity needs to give space to theatricality. Whilst the real Neville may speak in a wandering manner the audience still needs to be able to make sense of what is being said so every story can't continually taper off into meditation.

This comment leads me to Monstar as writer/director. Firstly, the above comment is also a directorial and writing concern. Theatre needs pace and variety. Rooney is representing Neville. He is not Neville. If Monstar wants us to meet Neville, then it might be better to film Neville telling his stories. If he wants the audience to hear and understand the life and times of his father, then he needs to employ stricter dramaturgy and theatre making skills.  

What My Father's Story needs is pace, variety, and dramatic action. In particular, whilst the stories are fun and a beautiful trip down memory lane, they are very descriptive. We really need to be let into why that memory is meaningful - either for Neville or for ourselves. Too often context or intent is missing which I suspect is causing Rooney some difficulty with remembering where his is in the script and definitely makes it harder for the audience to be enriched.

This sounds a bit harsh, and I want to emphasize the beauty and poignancy which is inherent in My Father's Story in both the content and performance. I also need to encourage Monstar to really focus on his dramaturgy or get someone to provide an outside eye to bounce off, particularly as he is planning a series of these types of performances (which I am really keen to encourage).

2.5 Stars

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