A lot of things can go wrong in a relationship between father and son – especially when junior is a peace activist and dad’s in the armed forces.
When RAF Sergeant Spencer was sent off to Iraq for six months – and his son Phil responded by staging a ‘die-in’ protest with fellow drama students – the potential for domestic conflict was probably greater than any threat of finding Weapons of Mass Destruction.
Instead, they talked, wrote letters to each other (called ‘Blueys’ after the colour of the free aerogrammes issued to families) and Phil was inspired to write the show he is performing as part of the Melbourne Fringe Festival.
His dad’s thick English-Midlands voice is provided courtesy of a large, cute-looking monkey puppet named Arthur (presumably with dad’s blessing) and air-raid sirens are ‘improvised’ by thrash metal guitarist, Brett.
Making no attempt at ventriloquy, and with basic but effective puppetry, the pair offers an insight into life on base in the middle of a controversial war; a war that was unpopular at home, provided no lasting solutions in Iraq and, for the men on the ground, created some challenging living conditions: desert heat and dust, long periods of boredom broken by moments of life-threatening pressure, and the constant tension of living in confined quarters stuck between US soldiers and Pakistani cooks and workers, suspected by the Americans of trying to poison them.
Then there was the huge gulf in standards and supplies; British forces in jungle-green fatigues because their sand-coloured camouflage gear hadn’t arrived, US troops with every imaginable device and Pakistani staff without even basic gas masks in a warzone where the use of chemical weapons was a daily threat.
Spencer has an interesting tale to tell and he is blessed with a delivery that suggests he would be a natural stand-up comic. Certainly the show needs some polish to move beyond the fringe (a few yarns beg extra time while others need trimming; the lull between ‘acts’ undermines his momentum, and Arthur is so much more engaging when Spencer’s mouth is partially obscured) but Errol Street is abuzz at 10.30pm, the Lithuanian Club is an undervalued venue, and there is huge potential for adding this short, thought-provoking, funny little show to a night out.
Tin Shed & Tamarama Rock Surfers present
by Phil Spencer
Directed by Scarlet McGlynn
Venue: Fringe Hub – The Loft, Lithuanian Club, 44 Errol St, North Melbourne
Dates: Oct 1 – 2, 4 – 8, 2011
Times: 10.30pm, Sun 9.30pm (50 minutes)
Tickets: $18 – $10
Part of the 2011 Melbourne Fringe Festival