Review: War Crimes (ATYP)

atypVenue: ATYP (Walsh Bay NSW), Jul 15 – Aug 1, 2015
Director: Alex Evans
Playwright: Angelia Betzien
Cast: Hannah Cox, Holly Fraser, Charlotte Hazzard, Odetta Quinn, Jane Watt
Image by Tracey Schramm

Theatre review
Art allows some of the most sensitive and intelligent of our community a platform to articulate their concerns about the world we share. Discussion on matters of social importance have become increasingly controlled by governing parties and mainstream media, leaving the arts to be one of the few avenues remaining, where ideas affecting us all can be exchanged thoughtfully and generously. Angelia Betzein’s War Crimes is not overtly political, but it is deeply interested in the state of affairs on the land that we share. Through the experiences of 5 young women at the end of their schooling days, we examine life in a regional town and its inhabitants’ troubling relationship with issues of poverty, misogyny, homophobia and racism, the four key controversies in modern discourse. Betzein’s writing draws inspiration from the language of our underprivileged youth but captured within a frame of poetry and emotional luxuriance, it communicates a gritty realism through a familiar theatrical structure that helps us understand the distant microcosm being deconstructed.

Direction by Alex Evans creates a landscape that confronts us with its brutality, but introduces disarming episodes of tenderness that move us, often unexpectedly. Evans is extraordinarily detailed with his portrayal of characters and relationships, and it is the depth and subtlety of the universal human experience being uncovered that is the most enjoyable feature of the production. Although his work with the team of actors is utterly outstanding, his control of atmosphere through collaborative efforts with technical designers should not go unremarked. Lights by Alex Berlage are imaginative and dynamic, creating a vista that is earthy yet sophisticated, and with plenty of variation between scenes to keep our eyes captivated. Tom Hogan’s intuitive sound work embraces the action on stage to help amplify the impact and significance being developed at each moment. Scene transitions rely on Hogan’s ability to manipulate our mood and level of engagement, so that shifts in time and place are established seamlessly.

The performances in War Crimes are impressive. We marvel at the five actors’ ability to appear so powerfully present, and their enthusiasm to share these concepts and stories is gloriously magnetic. Jane Watt is sensational in both her roles; a teenage troublemaker and a middle-aged Iraqi are both vividly portrayed with an exuberance that shows a courageous talent. Watt’s tendency for risky artistic choices is a real joy to behold and her energy is often called upon to bring vibrancy to the stage. One of the play’s most poignant moment comes from Hannah Cox, who as Jordan, professes her love by recreating cave drawings for the object of her desire. The surrender of her self in the hope for Jade’s reciprocation is unbelievably delicate and honest, and within those several seconds of stage time, all eyes are on her quivering facial features while we feel the intensity and clarity of her pure and transcendental love.

In order for our lives to be made better, it is important that we take a good hard look at our problems. It is easy to revel in self-delusion, and to be lied to. We cannot rely on powerful groups to give us the truth, as it is often to their advantage that the plight of the underprivileged is kept under wraps. The ruling and upper classes will maintain the status quo by the continued oppression of others, so we must gather information from alternate sources, such as the participants of independent theatre. War Crimes paints a picture of contemporary Australia that is at once ugly and beautiful. It has a harsh accuracy that can make it a bitter pill to swallow, but if we want the awful truth, this is just the kind of remedy we need more of.