Star Theatres. Peter Maddern. 19 Jul 2017
Walking the Kokoda Trail has become something of a fitness-vacation fashion, one which defeats a few people and is a revelation to most. Here is a play which should be compulsory viewing for all those intending to go. It is an intense dip into the wartime world it once was and the reason its name now has such renown.
Peter Maddern has created a stereotypical young Aussie soldier who found himself in New Guinea as a “Chocko” or “chocolate soldier”, which label denoted the barely trained innocents who were late into action in WWII. Todd Grey portrays the young Private Morris Powell delivering a highly credible character; a classic, ingenuous ocker bloke with a broad accent and a voice more typical of the footy outer than the stage. It’s a huge script in which a series of wartime actions are embodied as well as a potted history of the whole interaction with the Japanese and some of the politics of the field, and a sense of the acquisition of wisdom by the character himself. It is a torrent of dialogue. Grey gives it light and dark, pace, tension, drama, and intimacy.
For one man alone on a small stage, it could have seemed an overly complex monologue but the writer, Maddern, also has directed the work and has seen that not only are there costume changes and one large rock-style prop to give the performer a sense of time and scene, but that his assorted frays of one-sided combat action are embellished by excellent sound and lighting.
Josh Williams’ soundscape is simply superb - from the jungle chatter of birds and weather to the percussion of weaponry and the sound of voices close and far from all directions. He peoples the theatre with invisibles. With Zac Eichner’s dramatic lighting and a haze of smoke, muddy mountaintop and frantic combat all feel real.
The narrative is rapid-fire and fact-filled. It’s a lot to take in. Occasionally time and place are projected through lights fanned out in the smoke effects.
It is not the easiest night in the theatre. It is not an easy story. But it is an important one in Australian history. It marks a crucial early defeat of the Japanese and it portrays a too-often overlooked saga of a mob of Aussie men who defended this country, but rarely ever told the gruelling tale.
One might suggest playwright Maddern cuts the early comparison to a then and now of Melbourne suburbs from the script and also the word “clusterf@!k” which was born of Vietnam. These anachronisms stand out like banners of distraction. But, otherwise, bravo!
When: 19 Jul to 5 Aug
Where: Star Theatres