Review / Youth speak up in Anzac play

“Dead Men’s Wars” by Ralph McCubbin Howell, directed by Brett Adam and Katie Cawthorne.  At The Street Theatre, Childers St, until October 17. Reviewed by John Lombard

IT IS the 100th anniversary of the Gallipoli landing, and we are in Turkey marking the dawn service on the very beach where the ANZAC legend began.

The ensemble, photo  Lauren Atkin

The ensemble, photo Lauren Atkin

Student essay contest winner Lori (Bella Guarerra) takes the stand to read her tribute to the ANZAC heroes to the freezing, tired, reverent crowd—and then, going off message, declares that this whole ANZAC thing might be a bit sexist and unfair to people who aren’t “dead white males”.

Predictably, her comments cause a sensation, with social media exploding in a frenzy both for and against this young woman who is now buffeted in a storm that she unleashed but cannot control.

Her stupefied corporate minders (Lydia Buckley-Gorman and Andrew Eddey) scramble to extinguish  the media firestorm and save their jobs, but their attempts to silence Lori force her to own her opinion and stand up for the unheard voices of the silent dead.

In the true ANZAC spirit, this production is a collaboration between Australia and New Zealand, with cast derived from both Australia’s Canberra Youth Theatre and New Zealand’s Long Cloud Youth Theatre.

The production gives authentic voice—and distinctive accents—to the many different attitudes of young people to Gallipoli and the ANZAC tradition, from those who feel stifled by its worship of militarism to those, like Lori’s fellow contest winner Kip, (Richard Cotta) who persuasively argue that military service and sacrifice is alive in modern wars such as Afghanistan.

The set has literal soapboxes set up for the cast to mount, with most conversations broadcast at range from warring pulpits.  However Lori does not want to stifle other points of view, and the respectful conversation Lori and Kip have about their values is set up as the natural antidote to barracking and politicking about ANZAC Day.

“Dead Men’s Wars” lays claim to the ANZAC myth as a living tradition, with the youth of Australia and New Zealand boldly declaring their right to speak up about the myths that will shape their future.

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