Review: The Anzac Project (Ensemble Theatre)

ensembleVenue: Ensemble Theatre (Kirribilli NSW), Apr 2 – May 10, 2015.
Playwrights: Geoffrey Atherden (Dear Mum And Dad), Vanessa Bates (Light Begins To Fade)
Director: Mark Kilmurry
Actors: Anita Hegh, Eric Beecroft, Amy Mathews, David Terry
Image by Clare Hawley

Theatre review
Sacred cows insist on their stories being told repeatedly. Communities ascribe reverential value to our heroes, and lest we forget, their narratives are rehashed and recounted time and time again. With each passing year and with each new conflict, our attitudes about war, soldiers and nationhood change, and how we discuss these icons might alter accordingly but in the case of Australia’s Anzac legend, its social significance is guarded by a fierce loyalty that keeps its myth exceptionally pristine.

Ensemble Theatre’s The Anzac Project is a centennial commemoration of the 1915 Battle of Gallipoli, an event deeply meaningful to many Australians. Comprised of two plays, Geoffrey Atherden’s Dear Mum And Dad and Vanessa Bates’ Light Begins To Fade, the production attempts a fresh look at the hundred year story, with both pieces featuring characters from 1915 and 2015, juxtaposing time and tide to find a new way to represent our relationship with that monumental event in World War I. Artistic and subtle use of abstraction gives the work a sense of sophistication, but Atherden’s more prominent reliance on building a conventional narrative around a soldier is emotionally engaging, while Bates’ more sceptical approach, is too muted for dramatic effect, even if it is conceptually seductive. Mark Kilmurry’s direction is always respectful of the subject at hand, but he finds many opportunities to bring colour and energy to prevent the production from plunging too deeply into sombreness. His skill at creating an active and vibrant stage is to be admired, and his cleverness and flair with tricky scene transitions must not be left unacknowledged.

The cast of four is passionate and lively, with David Terry’s exuberance often stealing the show. The actor’s playfulness delivers a host of surprises, along with cheeky laughs, to what could have been a predictable retelling of these old tales. Anita Hegh’s versatility comes into full view with her portrayal of seven characters, each with a distinctive flavour and individual authenticity. The performers are required to constantly shift between roles, and although executed well, it demands of the audience a concentration that should be spent on more nuanced aspects of the plays.

As long as young people are being sent off to fight, we will always look upon sacrifices of our military organisations as worthy. Today, we are wary of making any statement that might be interpreted as a glorification of war, but by the same token, we hang on to the belief that our soldiers must be honoured. The tension between good and evil in this case is rarely explored sufficiently, perhaps because this Pandora’s box is a taboo that can never be breached. Art has the ability to bring intellect into any space, and to suggest alternate methods of exploring conventional thought, but sometimes the level of courage needed to articulate the unspeakable and profoundly unpopular, is simply beyond the capacity of any single person.

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