Real-life cult survival retold with warmth and wit

By Warwick Moffat

Alicia with borders

Alicia Easteal is fortunate to possess intelligence and wit, for it seems these were needed to survive the tale she is now ready to tell. Easteal was born into the dope-smoking, Shiva-worshipping cult of ‘The Family’ (thankfully no relation to the Manson ‘Family’). Their mystical beliefs may seem like quaint naivety, or perhaps dangerous misguidance: most endeavours of love do.

Originally intended as a documentary, it was impressive to see how this non-fiction story was translated to theatre. In The Family Tree evidence is exhibited in many forms: letters, posters, photos, footage and song. This keeps the proceedings vibrant as the facts unfold. Strictly speaking, this story could quite easily have been told completely via video and voiceover. The challenge for any performer who makes these choices is to justify being in the room.

A less skilled performer may have failed. Easteal was in no such danger. Great care was taken to ensure every exhibit was either self-explanatory or an ideal backdrop for face-to-face explanation. Easteal showed that a film can tell a story, but only the warmth of human conversation can retell it.

The full media release and the program go for the big sell. The release describes a performance with the “…vulnerability of the works of Spalding Gray and the wry humour of Sarah Silverman”. These performers defined their genres. Yes, the set is in the style of Spalding Gray, and follows a similar interpersonal documentary format. Certainly, many of Easteal’s accounts of herself and those close to her are told with dry, self-effacing wit.

However, these comparisons are hard to maintain and such claims were never necessary. There is a unique voice here, with something intriguing to tell and a valid philosophy. The openness shown when describing some horrendous circumstances gave an intimacy to the show which never left me feeling like a voyeur. Recounting foolishness from brave people and bravery from fools, The Family Tree succeeds in humanising those we too easily dehumanise. If you enjoy creative non-fiction or are interested in social affairs, this gracious offering within the intimate La Mama space will illuminate and entertain.


Wed 5th March to Sunday 16th March.


Wed, Fri, Sun at 6:30pm. Thur and Sat at 8:30pm.


La Mama Theatre, 205 Faraday St, Carlton.


$25 Full, $15 Concession.

03 9347 614203 9347 614203 9347 614203 9347 6142 or online at

Cash sales are available at the on-site box office unless sold out.