Belvoir, November 20

Even cute-billed, fluffy ducks do it, so it’s hardly surprising our own more belligerent species suffers bickering rivalries between fathers and sons. Fathers are loath to leave the mating/hunting field to their sons, and the sons – torn between craving approval and wanting to prove themselves better than their sires – become variously surly, aggressive and pathetic. In his new play, Tommy Murphy focuses on fraught father/son relationships within the Packers.

John Howard in Packer & Sons at the Belvoir Theatre.

John Howard in Packer & Sons at the Belvoir Theatre.Credit:Brett Boardman

Sir Frank begets Clyde and Kerry, Kerry begets James, and neither father can unbend their steely, power-and-wealth-obsessed ruthlessness enough to give the sons the love they crave. Resentment becomes a festering sore. In this telling of the story (which ends shortly before Kerry’s 2005 death), Kerry’s resentment forges him into a grotesquely exaggerated reincarnation of Frank, while Clyde – made of softer metal – suffers a complete estrangement from their father. James emerges more like Clyde, although desperate to out-Kerry Kerry.

Murphy’s last naturalistic play about real-life Australians, Mark Colvin’s Kidney, which also premiered at Belvoir Street and also had John Howard as its lead actor, was a finer work. When any writer tries to stuff bulging, uncooperative life into the undersized bag of a stage drama, the problem is which bits to leave out to make it fit. In Mark Colvin’s Kidney, Murphy’s adroitly-wielded scalpel ensured the awful weight of reality never crushed the light touch of his story-telling.

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