What does the home life of a budding state premier look like? How does he dress himself when he sits down to dinner? What does he read? How do his family treat him?
Eric Gardiner’s Bounty, presented by MKA: Theatre of New Writing, creates a spectacle out of the life of ex-Queensland Premier Campbell Newman. The audience sits both sides, sandwiching the stage at the Northcote Townhall, with the chance to gaze in on Campbell and his wife, their two daughters, and to see how well the man manages his political and personal lives (answer: not very well).
Bounty is heavily political and satirical, sending up the schlocky campaign ads for premiers, the highly public life of a family in politics, and the monstrous egos of our politicians. The play takes a sinister edge when it engages with the issue of violent bikie gangs of Queensland and Brisbane, demonstrating how a premier like Campbell is sucked in by the fear-mongering from the media and forced to prioritise it for his campaign, whether he actually feels strongly about it or not.
Conor Gallacher plays Campbell Newman, with all the pomp and faux-swagger of a political caricature. His wife Lisa Campbell is played by Matilda Reed, who has acted both in television and on the stage. Her most recent appearance was in Killer Joe by Black Water Theatre. Reed approaches the role with more sensitivity than Gallacher, showing the stress of having a high profile husband. She’s at her finest in moments when she confronts him, exposing his less than erudite knowledge of political matters. Zia Zantis-Vinycomb and Artemis Ioannides play daughters Rebecca and Sarah respectively. It’s their high-energy performances that kick Bounty up a few notches. They blaze onto the stage and create chaos like Furies from Ancient Greek myths, spouting prophesies that spell a bleak future for Brisbane. Their performances are at once aggressive and sexy, electrifying the stage when they enter it. Zantis-Vinycomb and Ioannides have both worked in film and theatre.
Entering the theatre, we came upon a stage that appeared like a storage room for movie props: stage left, a clothesline holding strange prison jumpsuits; in the centre, a porcelain statue sporting a gold chain and stage right a dining table set up with fruit bowl and newspapers. As a result the stage felt disjointed. Each section seemed an island of its own, instead of letting the props communicate with each other to create a unified space. Steve Hendy’s lighting design could’ve emphasized the effect, but aside from a few coloured lightings and game-show style strobing, the stage was mostly floodlit didn’t play with the unique set up.
The smattering of decorations expressed two themes coming together in a clash, befitting a show that boasted the violence of ancient Rome with the chaos of Australian politics. Campbell expressed his desires to build a “super jail” to imprison all the bikies, he wanted them to fight to the death in a gladiator-style arena. The play’s contrasting themes were explored in each section of the stage, from Sarah and Rebecca’s transformation to bikie rebels, Lisa’s chilling imprisonment aside the statue, and an amusing domestic between Campbell and his wife, as he tries to hide behind a newspaper at the dinner table, and Lisa keeps taking them away from him, one by one.
Gardiner’s script is packed with political and social zingers. Tom Gutteridge’s frenetic direction keeps the pace racing ahead, if at times a little too quickly to follow. Bounty’s humour is its lifeboat, uniting a loosely constructed plot and keeping it afloat with well-observed political satire. Gallacher shows some great physical comedy when the theme song for the UK show “Gladiators” comes on. His family dress him in a catalogue of stereotypical workman and civilian clothing (Erin Duyndam’s costume design is a real highlight), while he flashes a cheesy thumbs up to the audience. Much of the dialogue seemed to be addressed to the audience in this way, breaking the fourth wall and strengthening the feeling that we were being shown, ala reality television, the life of the Newman family. Campbell also made slogans, poking fun at the slogan-based campaign of our ex-PM Tony Abbott. However, this politician’s slogans were a little more unabashedly arrogant: “I came. I saw. I Campbelled.”
Bounty’s script is its most entertaining feature as well as being its undoing. Some killer one-liners and on-point observations ensure an entertaining viewing experience, but the strange, disjointed plot and lack of intimacy between the characters cause it to fall short of being a lasting piece of theatre.