Wednesday, 14 July 2004

Minefields and Miniskirts, July 14, 2004

Minefields and Miniskirts
adapted by Terence O'Connell from a book by Siobhan McHugh 
by Playbox Theatre
Merlin Theatre,  July 14 to 31, 2004
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Women in war are often a neglected chapter in history books.

Siobhan McHugh's book, Minefields and Miniskirts, is a volume of interviews with over fifty women who were part of the Vietnam War. Director, Terence O'Connell, adapted these recollections, merging them to form five Australian women whose lives were transformed by Vietnam.

The show is less a play and more a series of monologues linked by songs of the sixties. Most of the cast of five are singer-actors. Songs are a rich component of the evening. There could have been more songs and fewer monologues. The structure of monologues delivered to audience or to each other becomes repetitive.

The women's stories are arranged almost thematically: departure, naïve first impressions, witnessing death, romance, the Vietnamese, soldiers, children.

Finally, they tell of the chaos of returning home and the long-term effects of war. All are very young. Each experiences the death, injury, maiming and psychological damage of this senseless war.

Debra Byrne is the Nurse, a young Catholic woman who is bored in a hospital at home and wants some excitement.

The Journalist, played by Tracey Bartram, escapes from writing for the women's pages of a magazine to find that truthful stories of Vietnam are unwanted by her wire agency. The Volunteer, (Robyn Arthur) is a Christian dreaming of being a missionary like Ingrid Bergman in the movies and becomes enamoured of the Vietnamese.

The wartime Entertainer (Wendy Stapleton) is a trooper who sings all over the war zone for soldiers and never gets paid. The only woman who never sees Vietnam is the Veteran's Wife (Tracey Mann). Her story is about the effect of her husband's war trauma on her life.

This is not to say the stories are not moving and sometimes funny and often painful.

Phillip Lethlean's lighting is a potent component, establishing mood and temperament, location and time. The matchstick blinds and slow fans of Catherine Raven's design are a strong evocation of Vietnam.

Leaving on a Jet Plane, Circle Game and One Tin Soldier are all evocative of the period as well as the atmosphere of the play. Arthur, Byrne and Stapleton are compelling in the musical vignettes.

The songs are a welcome change and  but here needs to be more theatrical form to these stories to make this a play.

LOOK FOR: Debra Byrne's beautiful version of Saigon Bride

By Kate Herbert

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