Baggage &#151 The Kransky Sisters



Written and performed by Annie Lee, Christine Johnston, Michele Watt

Professional production

There’s Mourne, the bossy eldest with the clipped accent; there’s Eve, the insecure one who echo-whispers her sister’s words; and finally there’s Arva, the put-upon one who never says anything.

They’re the Kransky Sisters, and they are touring Australia in their old Morris well, to be honest, they didn’t quite make it to Perth, because they were told it was only two days as the crow flies, so they followed a crow and ended up out of petrol and water in the middle of the Nullarbor, and sent Arva back to Esk to get top-ups. After a week, she returned with a bottle of soft drink and a lolly on a stick, and just enough petrol to get them home, where they decided to give the west coast a miss for a while.

Drab, sad, slightly mad, but never had (although I have my doubts about Arva), these sisters are a country town nightmare come true. The foyer display of their household items, including faded cut-moquette sofas, rusting sugar tins, dog-eared piano music, and plastic doilies, tells it like it is, and once inside the audience is treated to a slide show of their most recent trip, a regional tour of Queensland, to places where some of this might be too true to be funny.

The girls, who are probably well into their thirties, have been brought up totally ignorant of the modern world, and all the accounts of their adventures are seen through the lens of innocence. Mourne, who does most of the talking, describes the dope party that Arva had dragged them to with a naivete worthy of Mrs Edna Everedge in her early days discovering a jar of Vaseline in her son’s bathroom cabinet, and wondering why it has hairs in it.

It’s in this skewed view of the world that most of the humour lies, for in our double-takes the joke is almost always on us, and while we shake our heads in disbelief we have to admire the skill that underlies both conception and performance, for none of them ever misses a beat, even when the audience is convulsed with laughter, nor slips out of character for a second.

But it’s more than just a saga of the Innocents Abroad. As their painful conversations take place, home truths are revealed, like the fact that Arva is the daughter of the other two’s brother and the others totally disapprove of her; that Eve is secretly in love with a man in the third row; that Mourne has a vicious streak and has been known to make mincemeat of the neighbour’s guinea pig while mowing the lawn, or, most dreadful of all, has encouraged, nay! brought about, fish cannibalism.

This story sums up the character of the whole show. Mourne is telling of her visit to a pet shop, where she sees a groper in a fish tank about to be devoured by a live lobster, she fears. Here Eve, her limpid brown eyes brimming with tears, whispers softly, “I do miss my little goldfish’s eyes when he came up every morning to the side of the bowl to say hullo to me.”

What’s the connexion, we wonder, until Mourne has the grace to look just a little abashed and explain that she only put the groper in the home fish tank to save it from the lobster.

And then they break into song, for these women are all accomplished vocalists except, of course, for Arva, the one who studied the tuba at Toowoomba TAFE, and aren’t the other two bitter about that! They sing their own zany takes on pop songs of the last 50 years, accompanying themselves on the carpentry saw, a battered electric keyboard, a guitar and some tambourines, while Arva boom-booms away on the tuba, upstaging them whenever she can, and obviously desperate to sing a song of her own.

Mourne, of course, won’t let her, but when the audience insists, makes Arva sit inside the car (which has broken down on-stage at the beginning of the show, and forms a perfect back-drop to the girls on their straight-backed chairs). She then shuts the door, and she and Eve sits tight-lipped while Arva sings a tender song of her own and receives, of course, wild applause from the audience.

And so the show goes on, and afterwards the audience buys autographed Kransky Sisters tea-towels at $15 a pop, and much delight is had by all, and everyone goes home happy, especially the Kransky Sisters. A hundred tea towels at $15 each wouldn’t you be delighted?

The Kransky Sisters are, of course, Annie Lee, Christine Johnston and Michele Watt, playing Mourne, Eve and Arva respectively, and if you hadn’t guessed that by now, either you’ve never seen a performance of Women in Voice, or you know nothing about the wealth of female vocal talent in this state. Who else in Queensland but Lee and Johnston could have dreamed up a show as eccentric and enchanting as this?

Executive producer Deborah Murphy, directorial consultant Jean-Marc Russ

Playing 15–19 November 2005 at 7.30pm

Duration: 1 hour 45 minutes, no interval

— Alison Cotes
(Performance seen: Tue 15th November 2005)