Adelaide Fringe. Star Theatres – The Chapel. 1 Mar 2019
The Kokoda Trail is a defining gene in Australia’s wartime DNA, and Kokoda, written by Peter Maddern and performed by Jayden Marshall, is a recent contribution to the catalogue of dramatic works that ensure this moment in history is vividly remembered for what it was: selfless sacrifice by ordinary men in regrettably extraordinary situations.
The history the play depicts is well known and documented. Suffice to say, the narrative explores the concept of the ‘chocolate soldier’, military leaders deflecting blame when campaigns don’t turn out the way they wanted, privation, mateship, instinct to stay alive, and the general horror of war.
The play comes in at around seventy minutes and is written for a solo actor, so it’s already a tall order for the production to be fully successful: the script needs to be engaging, the direction tight, the acting accomplished, and the production elements honed and empathetic. This production is often successful in these individual aspects, but not fully convincing in marrying them together.
Writer and Director Peter Maddern’s program notes state the script has been shortened since it was first produced, but it merits further cuts. Some of the underlying themes, such as military decision making, are re-explored but without adding substantial dramatic value. Some of the descriptive and scene-setting sections of text are evocative but are not always supported by sufficiently engaging stagecraft, which at times becomes repetitive. A one-hander places additional demands on all production components: they need to fit together like a jigsaw, and the realisation of the whole depends on the potency of every piece.
Zac Eichner’s lighting design works well in the intimate space of the Chapel Theatre and evokes the near-helplessness and isolation that the Kokoda diggers must have experienced.
Jayden Marshall captures the initial wide-eyed adventure-seeking youthful brashness of Private Morris Powell and confidently transitions into a terrorised man who is desperate to stay alive against seemingly impossible odds.
A highlight of the production is the soundscape by Andrés Diez Blanco and Josh Williams. It greatly adds to the tension and atmosphere of the production.
The ending of the play is unexpected and dramatically shocking, and leaves the audience in no doubt about the futility and sadness of war. Jayden Marshall’s curtain call is all the more poignant.
When: 1 to 11 Mar. Continuing in Stirling until 16 Mar
Where: The Chapel, Star Theatres.