The Photo Box
Space Theatre, Adelaide Festival Centre, Tarntanya (Adelaide)
Friday 4th of March, 6.30pm
Imagine you’re on a short flight sitting next to a stranger who strikes up a conversation with you based on a box of photos they have of their ordinarily extraordinary life. At first you’re wondering why this stranger is over-sharing with you, but soon you’re so drawn in to their storytelling and anecdotes that you don’t care about the mechanical fish falling from the heavens (more on that later) and you want this short flight to be a long-haul one instead.
That stranger is Emma Beech, your vessel is the Space Theatre and in just an hour and a half you’ll depart from not knowing anything about Beech and arrive at /thinking/ you know her well – but herein lies the catch of this expertly crafted memoir of a play – just when you think you know everything about your protagonist, you’re left with more questions than answers, and a sense that you should rush home and get in touch with people you grew up with and see if they remember your memories like you do.
Whether you’ve seen her work before or not, in The Photo Box, Beech (and her family) generously invite you to a meandering, nostalgic and poignant stroll down memory-lane that would be unfair to call an autobiography because so much of it is not about her, but also about the people in her life who she thought she knew well, but finds out in the course of making this show that they held secret desires and unrealised hopes that were only recently revealed.
With the aid of projected photographs and some clever lighting design by Chris Petridis, Beech takes us through a series of non-linear anecdotes that cover her childhood of growing up as one of nine siblings in the Riverside town of Barmera (at once a popular regional holiday destination and simultaneously host to two large fish-kill events in just fifteen years) to her Danish travels to giving birth to triplets to making it as an artist. Meg Wilson’s production design gives us all the impression of being in an oversized lounge-room with Beech and I found myself obsessing over how the stage was able to magically absorb several litres of water (you’ll see when you go to the show). Shalom Almond’s ‘slice-of-life’ observational film-making adds an enriching documentary-esque touch to this live performance.
It’s no easy feat to take a collection of disjointed memories and create a moving and coherent piece of art – and here I felt the work of director Mish Grigor, dramaturg Anne Thompson and the collective depth of talent between two of Adelaide’s finest theatre companies – Vitalstastix and Brink – were instrumental in shaping this important work of art into a show that will hopefully inspire artists to share more personal stories.