Tuesday, March 8, 2022





The Photo Box

Created and performed by Emma Beech. Directed by MishGrigor. Vitalstatistix and Brink Productions. The Space. Adelaide Festival Centre Adelaide Festival. March 3 – 7

Reviewed by Peter Wilkins.

Emma Beech stands alongside indigenous Elder Uncle Mickey as he welcome the audience to Kaurna country and speaks of the spirits who care for the land and protect the people. It is the welcome of a generous people, who consider their needs and not their wants and are willing to share their stories and their culture. He offers a heart-warming and profoundly wise gift to the audience who come to the Space at the Adelaide Festival Centre on Kaurna country to hear Emma Beech’s personal family story. I realize that The Photo Box  is about sharing, about telling Beech’s story through photos and videos of her family.  The Photo Box is more than one woman’s story. It is the shared journey through life that is common to all. It is Beech’s particular story of her large family of nine siblings from the Riverland town of Barmera. It is the story of the youngest child of John and Betty. It is also the story of the youngest of the nine brothers and sister, the eldest being twenty years older than Beech.

And so the sentimental journey begins with a box of photos given to Beech by her parents when preparing for their inevitable departure. Nearly a quarter of a century later they are still alive  and the nine boxes tell the tale of each child’s life from their birth to adulthood.

At the back of the set large frames hand from a sliding track on which images of various times in the family’s life are projected. The floor space turns to blue to become the water of the main feature of the town, Lake Bonney Barmera. The lighting changes as Beech moves her story through various locations such as the family home, Denmark, a dance floor, an ICU ward, an Escort Agency Reception desk, the long road to Barmera and other locations that become the scene for reenactments of Beech’s story.

 What emerges with the revelation of each photo is a shared journey, shared with parents, siblings, lovers, mothers, relatives and Beech’s intimate thoughts, dreams and confusions. It is an utterly engaging account of a life that is unique, special and extraordinary, not because of the fact that she performed before Princess Mary of Denmark, gave birth to triplets, watched a 100,000 brim wash up on the shore of Lake Bonney Barmera, worked as a receptionist at an Escort Agency or experimented with drugs in those wild uni days. Her life is extraordinary because it is her life, the Catholic girl from a country town in the Riverland of South Australia who became an actor and a performance artist and who has created a show that pulls back the curtain and tells with uncensored honesty the true account of what it has been like to be the girl, the daughter, the sister, the lover, the  wife and the mother of her three daughters. 

 Beech is the consummate storyteller. Assisted by the images that appear on the frames, the rubber fish that fall from the flys, the disco dancing and the conversation about her brother’s affair with her sister joining her on the stage and her sister’s aneurism and her brother’s terror at the prospect of her loss, surrounded by the mates who see him through to her recovery. Beech shares a story through photos, videos and her performance that tells a much larger tale. It is the tale that we all share. Uncle Mickey’s invitation becomes Beech’s heartwarming, comforting and loving story to her audience. We all have a story to share, a story of family, of trials and tribulations, dreams and disappointments. It is the unique experience that is every person’s box of photos and store of memories. Beech has been able to take the girl out of Barmera, but one senses as she lovingly and appreciartively speaks of her family and her life tht she is not able to take Barmera out of the girl. We share the spirit of her story, the struggles and thr triumphs, the laughter and the tears. We leave The Photo Box, delighted by Beech’s shared journey and enriched by the awareness that we too are special.

Photos by Sam Roberts