Campion Decent depicts an honest, entertaining and darkly hilarious personal journey toward the final frontier.
Image by Danielle Lyonne.
We meet this middle-aged theatre maker on a sparsely decorated set in the intimate Stables theatre. His tone is part conversational, part reflective, and at the same time, hilariously self deprecating. As he narrates his family story, his mother and father enter and enact scenes within his narrative. Mother is a self-centred drama-queen whose faith in wine and cigarettes is trumped only by her faith in God. Father is a miserly bigot who uses the term ‘your lot’ as a general descriptor for, alternately, either theatre crew or homosexuals. We meet this unholy trinity at a point in time when Mother and Father are dying.
Families don’t get much more dysfunctional than this. Abusive, alcoholic father, mother torn between pursuit of her career and care of her children, gay son who will never be understood. Reference is made to a sister who died of a drug overdose – presumably a consequence of trauma from child abuse and foster care. When the bonds of family are stretched so thin, death becomes the inescapable uniter. It doesn’t so much hold the family together as it does bring them together so that they may finally part.
In this largely autobiographical story, Campion Decent depicts an honest, entertaining and darkly hilarious personal journey toward the final frontier. It is by no means an objective view – we are told this by the setting in the theatre, the self-referential way the narrator addresses the audience directly. This is the subjective perspective of the son - whether this is an accurate representation of events is of secondary importance.
James Lugton plays the Son with an easy charisma, Anna Volska is larger than life as a woman desperately clinging to her heyday, but it is Robert Alexander as the father who really makes you feel. The journey from bully to frail old man is not an easy characterisation to play, and no matter how desperately we hope to see redemption, there are no heroes in this story, so instead we are left with a forgivable kind of regret.
As the story slouches towards the inevitable, and the old geezers finally kick the bucket, we watch Son desperately grasping for resolution and catharsis. But this is a blood and guts story about life, and real life is rarely so neat. Death resolves nothing, but in the wake of death it is the human condition to try to make sense of the inevitable, and that is what Son does. In an ending which makes no sense thematically, it makes every kind of sense with respect to the human condition. We impose meaning on meaningless things and make sense of a non-sensical world. It doesn’t matter if we are right – this is how we endure and therein lies the pathetic beauty of it all.
In Unholy Ghosts we see ridiculous characters coming to terms with inevitable situations in ridiculous ways, and as such it’s dripping with all the pathos and humour and fragility that these relationships can withstand. In the face of it all, humour is our savoir. Because if you can’t laugh, as the shadow of the sister lurking in the background reminds us, the alternative is just too grim.
Rating: 3 ½ out of 5 stars
Director: Kim Hardwick
Production Designer: Martin Kinnane
Composer: Michael Huxley
Assistant Director: Rebecca Scott
Stage Manager: Lauren Egan
Cast: Robert Alexander, James Lugton, Anna Volska
Griffin Theatre, Kings Cross
27 August - 20 September
First published on