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Brisbane ladies: explosive icons

Leah Mercer

The Kransky Sisters

The Kransky Sisters The Kransky Sisters
The appearance of 2 local productions from uniquely idiosyncratic female-driven performance ensembles in the same month says something about the eclectic nature of independent performance in Brisbane. The Kransky Sisters and The Brides of Frank have been making their presence felt around Brisbane for a couple of years now. The 3 Kranskys and the 5 Brides have multiple careers as solo performers in theatre, dance and music; as groups they began as one-off performances that have now evolved into focused ensembles. Each is the unique sum of its eclectic parts. With iconic female roles (sister, spinster and bride) as their starting point, both ensembles have pushed these archetypes into extreme satire, with more than a touch of the gothic.

Baggage is the product of The Kransky Sisters’ artists-in-residency at QPAC (Queensland Performing Arts Centre) and their third show since 2004. Since their formation in 2000 they have carved out a national profile with their performances on SBS TV’s In Siberia Tonight and at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival, where they were recently awarded the Melbourne Theatre Critics Green Room Award for Best Comedy Ensemble. Introducing themselves as sisters from the small Queensland country town of Esk, Mourne (Annie Lee), Eve (Christine Johnston) and Arva Kransky (Michele Watt) arrive onstage in the family Morris loaded down with baggage (of both the literal and metaphoric kind). Dressed identically in black pleated skirts and black and white polka-dot blouses, their very presence evokes compelling other-worldliness.

Notwithstanding that the only physicality at their disposal is their gothically expressive faces (strikingly framed by severe black pageboy wigs) and what could almost be described as an absence of body, the Kranskys are actually very physical performers. The characters are perfectly constrained and contained: Mourne, the domineering eldest sister is haughty, frozen and brittle, positively arthritic; Eve painfully trapped in the middle, is cautious and hesitant, drowned in her smothered sensuality; and Arva, jammed in the reciprocal embrace of her tuba (the only cuddle she’s likely to get in this family), is the Harpo of the act. Her face acts as a barometer for what’s not said and, without ever saying a word she wins the audience over as the outsider in a family of extreme outsiders. The dynamic between them, the edgy Mourne, the superbly naïve Eve and the put-upon but knowing Arva, creates great comic exchanges which set the scene for the songs sprinkled throughout the performance.

These songs (played on guitar, keyboard, saw, tambourine, kitchen pot, toilet brush, tuba and more) are the heart of this act. From the extremes of ridiculousness (their take on the Jimi Hendrix classic Foxy Lady) to the really quite poignant (their gorgeous rendition of Jim Croce’s Time in A Bottle), their earnest delivery and spot-on arrangements mean that the Kranskys never descend into cheap parody; they play for laughs but never at their characters’ expense. Full of memorable moments (Talking Heads’ Psycho Killer, complete with yodeling and some wild Salvation Army tambourine moves, tops my list) Baggage unfolds as a series of stories gathered during the Kransky’s recent tour of regional Queensland. Continuing that great Australian tradition of the misfit hero, the sisters unload their baggage onto a very willing audience, appealing to everyone’s inner dag along the way.

The Brides of Frank
Brides of Frank, Smash up the 50’s in Til Death Do Us Part Brides of Frank, Smash up the 50’s in Til Death Do Us Part
photo Justin Nicholas
‘Til death do us part, “an exclusive live theatre cocktail of parody, schmooze, glamour and dysfunction” showcases The Brides of Frank, 5 Brisbane actresses who have trained extensively in the Japanese Suzuki Actor Training Method with the Brisbane-based Frank Theatre ensemble, the “husband” of the title. Their marriage to this movement training is very much apparent in their work; the extreme stylisation of their choreography creates a compelling visual aesthetic. For a work divided into six acts and interspersed with music from Paul Hankinson and Tyrone Noonan, the Visy Space did its best to operate as a cabaret-type venue. The opening act, ‘Til death do us part—The Resurrection (with original live narration by Lucinda Shaw), introduces the Brides stepping out of a coffin in full bridal regalia. What follows is a series of very unfortunate events as each Bride dies a grisly and hilariously ridiculous death. Turning the virgin-bride-death tragedy on its head 5 times in quick succession is the beginning of a night spent subverting all the usual suspects of female representation.

Of the 5 acts that follow, each one is built around a different fancy, from sugary pop song notions about love all the way to Billy Idol’s White Wedding. In addition to the physical choreography the Brides often mime their way along to the medley of contemporary pop tunes that make up the soundtrack. The effect is reminiscent of Suzuki’s penchant for placing contemporary song as backdrop to a montage of action (think Shakespeare meets Roy Orbison). This idea is also employed by Frank (a good example is Cher’s Turn Back Time in their memorable re-imagining of Ray Lawler’s The Summer of the Seventeenth Doll). In this and many other ways the Brides’ 2 husbands (Frank and Suzuki) are very much in evidence.

And yet their own spin on this idea is also part rock eisteddfod, albeit a seriously drug-fucked one. This combination of the best and worst of pop culture (ie where what’s worst is also best) and a serious intention to spoof what is often misread as the joyless earnestness of Suzuki-based performance is at the core of what works about the Brides. It might help if you’re in on the joke, but the engaging choreography, strong performances, fabulous costumes and the fact that everyone’s having so much fun keeps the audience entertained. All of the acts, The Squalid Gold Dancers (spoofing the 80s’ phenomenon the Solid Gold Dancers), Smash Up the 50s (a kind of psychedelic rendering of The Stepford Wives) and The Apartment (a brilliant take on what your furniture gets up to when you’re not home) are fully self-contained parts that make up a diverse, funny and peculiar night’s entertainment.

The Kransky Sisters, Baggage, performers Annie Lee, Christine Johnston, Michele Watt, executive producer Deborah Murphy, directorial consultant Jean-Marc Russ, creative consultant Robyn Kershaw, slide show & foyer installation Kylie Burke, lighting designer Ben Hughes, costume construction Frances Pyper, producer QPAC; Playhouse, QPAC; November 15-19, 2005

The Brides of Frank, ‘Til death do us part, performers Caroline Dunphy, Lisa O’Neill, Emma Pursey, Leah Shelton, Neridah Waters; with Tyrone Noonan, Lucinda Shaw, Mr Hanky; music arrangers Paul Hankinson, Tyrone Noonan, lighting designer Derek Griffin, sound design Leah Shelton & The Brides of Frank, Costume Design: Leah Shelton, Emma Pursey, Tiffany Beckwith-Skinner (Flossies); Visy Theatre, Brisbane Powerhouse, Nov23, 2005

RealTime issue #71 Feb-March 2006 pg. 33

© Leah Mercer; for permission to reproduce apply to [email protected]

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