Saturday, September 2, 2023



The Family Business. Devised and performed by Lightbulb Theatre. 

Concept by Louise Walsh and Amy Crawford. Directed by Ali Clinch.   Music by Allan Hui   Set & Lighting design and operation by Ali Clinch. The Courtyard Studio. Canberra Theatre Centre. August 31 – September 2. 2023. Bookings 62752700 or

Reviewed by Peter Wilkins.


Lightbulb theatre shines its spotlight on theatre that springs from the spontaneity and danger of improvisation. There is no script, no rules, and no limits their Facebook page tells me.  Well, that’s not entirely accurate. If it were, then their latest offering The Family Business would be an utter shambles. It’s not. It promises  criminal thrills, family drama and judging by the audience reaction plenty of laughs  In fact guest director Ali Clinch has ensured a tight enough scenario to maintain control and lend a credibility to the stereotypical characters that are often the stuff of improvisation. In The Family Business there are the siblings that run the family business. The eldest sibling and the only male (James Edgar Lim) naturally is in charge of the business. The middle child (Laura Griffin) is the sweet and kind sister while the youngest (Louise Walsh) revels in Machiavellian scheming and selfish ambition.  Then there is the narky decrepit Grandmother (Millie Hayes), the flustered accountant (Olivia Chollett) and the daffy employee (Amy Crawford) with a crush on the middle child.

“You won’t be asked to perform” I’m assured as I enter The Courtyard Studio. “But you will be asked to determine what happens,” At the top of the stairs I am handed a white chess pawn and a pin. I am asked to decide who I think is the murderer and I place the pawn in the jar next to the photo of the middle sibling. With the pin I am to choose from the motives. I don’t which could be why there is a tie. The chosen sister is deemed the murderer and there is a tie between betrayal and cover up as motives. The plot is set but on any night it could be a different choice that determines the way the improvisation could go. It’s a clever ruse but not without risks. Nobody can be absolutely sure what the other actors may say or do but it’s not all guesswork and like any good improvisation there is a scenario to hold it all together and a director to keep it all on track.

The rest is just good fun as we watch to see the sequence of events that lead up to the murder unfold and who it is who will be tonight’s victim. It’s not too hard to guess. The Family Business is no great theatrical drama. There is no script to chart a narrative to the climax and a revealing denouement, There is no depth of character or intense Method acting. The performers keep control without letting the improvised dialogue and action get off the rails, except in one obvious moment when the action appears to run off the rails while waiting for a lighting cue.. But then, an audience revels in the blunders and delights in the machinations of the villain. And Lightbulb certainly knows how to play to its collegiate audience. The guffaws ring through the theatre, not necessarily because a particular line is funny but more because their friends on stage are skillfully negotiating the potholes in the pathway through the precarious pitfalls of improv.

In The Family Business, Lightbulb effectively serves up a poisonous dose of murder mystery, risky improvisation and an artful touch of coarse acting to stir up hilarity in an audience largely of friends and co-conspirators in Improvisation.  Director Clinch has fashioned the performance into an entertaining piece of Guess the Victim, assisted by Alan Liu’s soundtrack on keyboard and a cast of zany characters who are skilled enough to make the audience’s choice of murderer and motive work, while honouring their promise of plenty of laughs. If this is your thing then a quirky Lightbulb Theatre performance will guarantee you a night of entertaining comedy.