My Imaginary Family written and performed by Grahame Bond. Directed by Maurice Murphy at The Street Theatre, March 4 – 26, 2011.
Reviewed by Frank McKone
After he presented the eulogy at his mother’s funeral, Bond says, his doctor approached him saying, “I think you need help.” Bond’s unspoken response, he tells us, was to reject criticism, as if the doctor were about to be a critic of his performance. In fact, it was an offer of grief counselling, which Bond accepted and found of great value.
This story, about his real family – not the family of imaginary characters he has created as a writer-performer – makes my task as a critic of his show one of a delicate balance. For the creator of characters, like Aunty Jack and Kev Kavanagh, to perform himself is like jumping off a real cliff and trusting that his imagination will make him fly. It’s a risk that most actors only take in the company of a Michael Parkinson. In this single hander, Bond plays himself, tells stories about himself, sings songs he wrote (often in company with Rory O’Donahue and Jim Burnett), moving in and out of roles he created, while also filling the Parkinson “interviewer” role of linking us watching with the person being “interviewed.”
Being Grahame Bond also inevitably meant a tendency to interact directly with his audience, so I was not surprised that keeping all these balls juggling in the intimate space of The Street 2 led him to lose his scripted lines at one point early in the show. This was, I believe, the very first performance, and trajectories came into better unison as the 90 minute show progressed. There were strong moments of both satire and emotion, both integrated in the horrifying highlight story of the 1980 New Year’s Eve at the Opera House.
For my generation whose adult lives have run alongside Grahame Bond’s, the stories behind the creation of Aunty Jack et al are of genuine interest. I was always aware of the satire, but the characters and style seemed to appear out of thin air with Thin Arthur around 1970. There was nothing quite like them in the Australian tradition, yet Aunty Jack, Flash Nick from Jindavick and Wollongong the Brave were as Australian as all get out. Perhaps they were parallel to the British Not the Nine O’Clock News, Monty Python, and The Goodies, and indeed Bond did take his work to London Weekend Television in Not the Aunty Jack Show.
I’m not sure what young people today will make of My Imaginary Family but it runs through the Canberra Festival and bookings are already going well. It will be a good test for “The stories of a ‘Jack of all Trades’ and the backing songs of his life.”