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March 14, 2011 / Siobhan Argent

The Kransky Sisters

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With their trademark black hairstyles and 1930s conservative dress, the Kransky sisters could almost be mistaken for nuns if they weren’t so frightfully made up. While I enjoy watching brief performances of the sisters on television, I was sceptical about their ability to hold the attention of an audience for a full 90 minutes.

That didn’t last long after I entered the Spiegeltent theatre. An Arts Centre temporary construction, it has been resurrected in order to extol the virtues of live performances, with a selection of shows featuring from February to April this year. When the show started on this particular day, I quickly realised that the Kransky sisters are characters set in comedy gold. Each one plays so effortlessly off the other that it makes for an easy afternoon of not-so-easy listening. When ‘Aquarius’ is sung with perfect enunciation by some seriously strait-laced ladies, you can’t help but giggle.

There’s little back story to this performance, save whatever permits the sisters to launch into their queer renditions of well-known pop melodies. The sisters are macabre beings, with an almost religious upbringing starved of normal interactions with humans. With Morne (Annie Lee) on guitar and main vocals, Eve (Christine Johnson) on the bandsaw (that creepy instrument that tends to invoke images of ghosts, skeletons and all things deathly) and the much-maligned Dawn (Carolyn Johns) on tuba, the sisters can tinge any great song with mediocrity, disappointment and savage conservatism. It lends itself quite naturally to comedy and theatre. The sisters aren’t afraid of elaborating on back story for the sake of maintaining the atmosphere of the show either; while a fourth sister, Arva, is usually the tuba-playing member of the band, Dawn has been dragged in as her replacement after Arva disappeared while exchanging sheet music with the Hornbell Military Marching Band. Sinister indeed.

The Kransky Sisters is probably a little too sideways for those who like their comedy straight up-and-down. It’s a show that’s almost entirely character driven, so if you prefer people who perform their comedy while just being ‘themselves’, then you’re probably going to get exasperated with the all-round performance offered here. But that is, in many respects, why the Kransky Sisters work. They can sing ‘Sweet Dreams Are Made of This’ as though they are chickens being plucked, yet they don’t betray a single twitch of self-consciousness. Their dedication to their roles makes the sisters addictive viewing. Dawn is always hilariously picked on, while Eve is the flighty pretend vegetarian and hopeless romantic. Morne, as the older sister and the staunchest spinster of the three, vents her frustrations on her tuba-bearing sibling and concentrates on keeping Eve in line. The trio play on the idea that all three of them are perfectly innocent to the ideas implied in such songs as ‘Afternoon Delight’, and seem barely cognisant of the implications of singing ‘Psycho Killer—Qu’est-ce que c’est?’ straight after accusing Dawn of indirectly killing a neighbour’s pet rabbit.

Morne’s curiously comic expressions of disgust are cues for the audience to start giggling; at one point, when she hisses like a cat, the act is so perfectly timed the audience implodes with laughter. I dare say the trio have honed their improvisational skills from years of touring in character; even when a joker in the crowd continued to repeat a dying one-liner, they didn’t break character once.

The highlight of this particular show was the audience participation. One poor fellow was pulled from the crowd to make up the fourth ‘honorary Kransky’, complete with triangle. With a rousing rendition of ‘Ring of Fire’ for him to ding along to, we watched him keep rather good time. It’s always so much more hilarious when you’re not the audience member dressed up in a wig and polka-dot shirt.


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