Brisbane review - My Family and Other Animals: family friendly and fun to watch
By Lilian Harrington
My Family and Other Animals
By Gerald Durrell
Stage Adaptation: Janys Chambers
Directed by Leo Bradley
Ron Hurley Theatre
28 Tallowood St. Seven Hills, Brisbane
Season: 25 August - 3 September
Fridays, Saturdays evgs. 7 30 pm
Sunday Matinee 2 pm.
Photo by Christopher Sharman Photography
My Family and Other Animals is the stage adaptation by Janys Chambers, of English naturalist and writer, Gerald Durrell’s popular autobiography, based on his family’s experience while living on the Greek Island of Corfu, prior to World War 2. It’s now both a popular stage and TV adaptation.
This comedy has obviously been tricky to pull together, because it involves so many elements: a large cast, puppetry, interchanging roles for the ensemble, Greek dancing ,singing and audience participation, so although a rather lengthy production , it keeps audience interest.
Directed by Leo Bradley, the play explores the Durrell’s adventures on Corfu, the young Durrell’s, Larry, (Daniel Buckley) Leslie (Nikolai Stewart) Margo (Michaela Gallagher) and Gerald (Oliver Walter) as well as Roger the dog (Jack Walters), and their recently widowed mother Louisa (Amy Bent), over a four year period. It’s narrated by the adult Gerald Durrell (Nathan Seng), as he reflects on his family’s adventures, highlighted by overheads and sound effects, puppetry and special encounters.
The script is funny and engaging because it explores the foibles and troubles the Durrell’s have settling into island life, where the family forge a rambling and rambunctious path in a somewhat exaggerated and amusing way, with the help of taxi driver Spiro (Ian Walters) and the cook (Genevieve Swan); the family’s adventures are captured in a fictionalised and dramatized style and shows up the chaos and humour that they have as they face lifestyle changes, both familiar and unfamiliar.
The set design by Brent and Mardi Schon, created an impression of Corfu, but it was pared back and simplistic, built on two levels, giving more space for scene changes; this allowed for cast to break through the 4th wall on occasion, or enabled special effects to highlight certain stage actions e. g. the overheads, the blue plastic sheeting for the sea water and the brown sheeting for the mud, held up by creatives; supporting this, costumes and props were set in the style of the interwar period, to compliment the theme and action. The effort put into the puppet construction by the creatives worked well, the scene required: magpies, dogs and an albatross, manipulated by dance -choreographer and puppeteer, Lynette Wockner. The set design allowed for senior Gerry’s narration to work effectively and encouraged audience participation when the “local islanders” were singing and dancing along with the “family’s antics”.
At times the Ensemble Cast was a little slow on some of the cues on opening night, leading to some unwanted pauses, however, they were kept busy supporting the main action; even the minor characters had to change roles and keep up the momentum, swapping from a customs officer, to a hotel manager, or the Turkish boyfriend, to local singer and dancer e.g. Josephine Stockdale successfully filled multiple roles or became a puppeteer as required.
Overall, the cast team work was effective, especially the Durrell’s; it was sharp and there was a familial dynamic between Mother and all the siblings. It showed the misunderstandings and outbursts, especially from budding writer, Larry Durrell (Daniel Buckley). Young Gerald Durrell (Oliver Walters) and his dog Roger( Jack Walters), captured the endearing childish innocence, the inquisitiveness of a young mind; although at times he was inaudible, he covered this with his physical actions, which were amusing and contrasted with gun happy Leslie, and writer Larry, and his sister Margo (Michaela Gallagher), with his affinity towards wild life which often caused problems. This comedy is family friendly and fun to watch and the audience response was spontaneous.