Family Album is an eerily topical play in these days when we’re entreated to stay home. A snapshot of a family house, we see three generations co-existing, mostly uncomfortably, in a confined space. This family are allowed out – Mum sets off to work first. Grandmother’s left to rouse father – and then son – out of bed. She tries her best to keep the house clean, and her family fed and on track, all while they do their best to ignore her efforts.
The story is told entirely through physical theatre and the actors also wear masks. The masks are gorgeous, both full of character and curiously full of life. Where the costumes are clearly chosen to convey a type, the masks imbue what verges on stereotype with a wonderful humanity. The set is a couple of decades old and certainly down at heel – the wallpaper says it all – but smart use of a scrim allows the audience to watch co-existing action in multiple rooms, building up a nice picture of their domestic ecosystem.
The actors do a wonderful job of conveying character through their physicality. Harder yet to achieve, the audience finds themselves warming to these vaguely pantomime masked creatures. Where the story starts with a cacophonous soundtrack and action verging on farce, director Matteo Spiazzi orchestrates a change of pace partway, inviting great empathy with these characters trapped with their habits, their coping strategies and their regrets. There’s an especially touching encounter with a photo from the titular family album that reminds you of the layers of loss and love that all families are built on.
As a filmed version of a play, this recording occasionally suffers from the viewer not being able to see the whole of the stage and very occasionally, from the camera not quite being in focus. There are probably all sorts of nuances in the radio broadcast shared by the Grandma and her ancient friend as they make bread – but unless you speak Ukrainian, these may escape you.
But technical glitches aside, this is physical theatre at its international best. Family Album comes to us from Left Bank Theatre, based in Kiev in Ukraine, and it is refreshing to see great physical theatre arise from somewhere less represented. It’s a curious irony that we find our way midway through the International Online Theatre Festival when the pandemic keeps us from physical theatres but it’s a total pleasure to be able to enjoy such exotic riches from the comfort of our kitchen/living/bedrooms.
Family Album is available to watch on YouTube here