Wednesday, 15 August 2007

Weary by Alan Hopgood, Aug 15, 2007

Weary by Alan Hopgood 
Comedy Theatre,  Aug 15 to 25, 2007
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Aug 15, 2007

Weary is a sobering experience. Adapted by Alan Hopgood from the War diaries of Sir Edward Weary Dunlop, the play focuses on Dunlop’s period of incarceration by the Japanese as a Prisoner of War from 1942 to 1945.

The horror and heroism surrounding Dunlop in the POW camps is compelling. Weary was a non-combatant officer, a surgeon working at a casualty hospital in Java when the Japanese forced the surrender of Australian and other troops.

Initially captives suffered minimal abuse and had sufficient food and freedom. What followed were some of the worst atrocities ever visited upon Australian wartime prisoners. Dunlop and his comrades who worked on the Burma-Thailand Railway were brutalised, starved and diseased.

Three actors bring Weary’s memories to life. Ronald Falk is dignified and laconic as old Sir Edward who struggles to read and collate the 40-year old diaries he wrote on scraps of paper.  Encouraging him to confront his past is the Unknown Soldier (Dion Mills). Mills represents with sympathy the sick and dying men Weary treated and plays Japanese officers and guards sometimes with humour and at others with terrifying violence.

As his memories flood back, Old Weary meets his younger self, performed with a serious and occasionally playful demeanour by Samuel Johnson.

Hopgood, with director Roger Hodgman, includes only selected stories from Dunlop’s diaries that were published in 1986. The staging does not attempt to recreate the camps, the tortuous marches and the masses of soldiers. The simple but evocative design (Shaun Gurton) places Weary’s desk amidst an empty space with rice paper screens and wooden hut walls. Unobtrusive music (David Bridie) and dramatic lighting (Matt Scott) enhance the atmosphere.

Although Hopgood is selective about the stories, there is a significant amount of expository detail and explication in the script that interrupts the dramatic tension and sometimes removes us emotionally from the awfulness of the experiences. The scenes are most successful when the characters are immersed in the drama or the description is most vivid.

We see a surgical procedure performed by flickering lamplight and Weary being threatened with a Japanese sword and we hear details of a man being beaten to death while suffering malaria or a macabre funeral procession through the jungle.

Dunlop saved many lives by confronting Japanese officers and improvising medical procedures. His spirit is captured in these 90 minutes.

By Kate Herbert

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