Wednesday, 26 March 2014

The Long Way Home, March 27-29, 2014 ****

By Daniel Keene
Presented by Sydney Theatre Company (STC) & Australian Defence Force (ADF)
Merlyn Theatre, Malthouse until March 29, 2014
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on March 27
Stars: ****
Review also published in Herald Sun online on Fri March 28, 2014 and later in print. KH

In The Long Way Home, the true stories of injured Australian servicemen and women merge with Daniel Keene’s incisive writing to create a moving and gritty play.

Real stories told by real people have a resonance and truth that actors can only dream of, and seeing 12 service personnel performing their own and others’ painful stories is compelling, provocative, sometimes funny and often heart-rending.

Supported by 5 professional actors, the 12 service persons play a parade of characters based loosely on themselves and others, tell stories about the aftermath of war, the aching experience of recovering from injury and facing ongoing physical, emotional and psychological trauma.

Director Stephen Rayne, based this show on his UK production and, with Keene as writer, they ran a five week workshop with a group of participants, exploring ideas and experiences, and developing acting skills which led to Keene’s script and a period of rehearsal.

This process not only delivers an undeniably riveting and provocative performance but it also may assist these servicemen and women in their recovery.

Keene’s script is episodic, gripping and bold with plenty of swearing, raw comedy and personal stories woven together with sensitive, earthy and often poetic writing.

Renée Mulder’s sparse, flexible design allows the stage to transform into multiple locations that transport us to Afghanistan, a city streetscape at night, a military hospital ward or a soldier’s living room.

We witness soldiers consumed by boredom or fear as they stand watch in the desert, children playing war games, recruitment officers and homecomings.

There are affecting scenes of two men who return from war to discover that they are profoundly transformed, cannot connect with their wives and now suffer delusions, nightmares, depression, sexual dysfunction and anxiety.

We see the agonising, recurrent scene of a young soldier emerging from a coma and achingly slowly regaining consciousness, his voice and the use of his limbs.

Keene gives this young man the voice of a poet whose first, almost inaudible, inarticulate words are a beautifully lyrical verse about a soldier’s struggle.

In repeated incidences, we see these injured servicemen unable ask for help or unwilling to accept it, which forces us to recognise that rehabilitation is not simply about being in hospital and taking your meds.

In a provocative, poignantly written and performed vignette, a soldier delivers a stand-up comedy routine that degenerates into a fierce and finally tragic performance.

Punctuating the heart–breaking scenes are some hilarious moments, including a military spruiker’s PR presentation that parodies the soldier’s trained, automatic response to say, “Yes”.

There is power and passion in this production that focuses our attention on the crucial issues of the illness and recovery of those often invisible men and women who serve their country only to come home permanently altered.

Kate Herbert

From Media Release:
"The Long Way Home, a new play by Daniel Keene, is an historic collaboration between Sydney Theatre Company (STC) and the Australian Defence Force (ADF), coming to Melbourne in March for three nights only as part of an extensive national tour.

"Featuring 13 real soldiers on stage alongside four professional actors, The Long Way Home conveys the personal stories of Australian servicemen and women who have been wounded, injured or become ill during ADF operations in Iraq, Afghanistan and East Timor.

"In 2013, 15 servicemen and women participated in an intensive research and development program at STC sharing their experiences with director Stephen Rayne, playwright Daniel Keene and professional actors to shape this new play. 13 of these participants, ranging from Private to Brigadier, now perform with the four professional actors in The Long Way Home, a unique theatre experience reflecting Australia’s recent experience of war.

"The Long Way Home will, in the centenary year of the start of the Great War, give audiences a unique insight into the challenges these men and women and their families confront.

"The servicemen and women participating in the program have sustained a range of physical and psychological wounds or injuries and the development process and the production itself supports their rehabilitation and recovery."

Director Stephen Rayne
Writer  Daniel Keene
Set and Costume Designer Renée Mulder
 Lighting Designer Damien Cooper

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