Venue: Belvoir St Theatre (Surry Hills NSW), Nov 11 – Dec 22, 2019
Playwright: Tommy Murphy
Director: Eamon Flack
Cast: Nick Bartlett, John Gaden, Anthony Harkin, John Howard, Brandon McClelland, Josh McConville, Nate Sammut, Byron Wolffe
Images by Brett Boardman
It is assumed in Tommy Murphy’s Packer & Sons that we would be interested in three generations of awful men, simply because they rank amongst some of the most notorious people in the country. The play makes little effort to elicit our emotional investment in these repulsive characters, relying only on their celebrity to fascinate, as it dives straight into the nitty-gritty of their ruthless business dealings. Frank, Kerry and James Packer wield a lot of power as media moguls, and as the top one percentile their every major financial decision causes reverberations for the rest of us, yet the family shows nothing but contempt for consumers who they only seek to exploit and never to serve.
Packer & Sons seems to have an abundance of misplaced empathy for the Packer boys. James at its conclusion especially, weeps and wails as though innocent of all sins, begging for father’s approval, in an extended sequence that we can only regard with incredulity. We want to laugh at these animals, but the production is reluctant to heap scorn, expending its energy instead on the inner mechanics of the empire, as though offering something revelatory or profound.
The production is remarkably unimaginative, with too great an emphasis on a realism that works only to inform us on things that have long been public knowledge. Eamon Flack’s direction is able to convey with accuracy, dynamics between the men, which form the crux of the piece, but this focus on father-son relations is ultimately insufficiently substantial to sustain our engagement. Design elements of the presentation are accomplished, if slightly underwhelming, in their representations of some of the world’s wealthiest. The staging misses an opportunity to mock the Packer’s obsession with money and commercial success, especially in visual terms.
Actor John Howard is effective as tyrants of the dynasty, the grumpy old men Frank and Kerry, persuasive with the cunning he depicts, as the cruel instigator of chaotic discord at home and at work. Howard’s portrayal of toxic fatherhood in both roles, is a captivating feature of the show. As James and young Kerry, Josh McConville is irrepressibly vivacious. The energetic desperation that he embodies for Kerry, almost makes up for Packer & Sons‘s lacklustre drama.
Performances feel predictable, in this obvious and conservative take on a story about the patriarchy. Everything seems to be done the most convenient way, and the result is just banal. These characters are hateful, and if we are to spend any theatrical time with them, the approach should not be any less controversial than the way these assholes have always presented themselves, and prided themselves to be.