Adelaide Festival of Arts theatre wrap

Last year’s Adelaide Festival of Arts brought political conflict to the stage. This year, it was the conflict of war, and sometimes, war within the self.

Last year’s Adelaide Festival of Arts brought political conflict to the stage. This year, it was the conflict of war, and sometimes, war within the self. In State Theatre Company’s enthrallingly inventive production of three Samuel Beckett plays, the characters battle with the past. As May, in Footfalls, Pamela Rabe paces inexorably back and forth, speaking to her unseen dying mother; the mother (Sandy Gore) then talks to May and, in the last part, May speaks of another mother and daughter, Amy – an anagram of May – who may or may not have existed. We are left to ponder on these painful recollections. In Eh Joe, a dressing-gowned Paul Blackwell sits on the edge of his bed. A woman’s taunting voice (Rabe’s) reminisces about their past, but increasingly his. Much induces guilt. As written first for television, the camera moved closer to Joe with each paragraph of the monologue; here, the image of Blackwell’s sensitive face appears on a scrim across the stage so the actor himself is seen in profile behind it while the subtleties of his expression are seen face on. A brilliant solution. In Krapp’s Last Tape, the 69-yearold Krapp plays reel-to-reel tapes of himself at 39. One theme is his need to quell his craving for sex and drink – a conflict between will and wisdom. Now too old for one, his frequent disappearances into a room hidden behind the piles of rubbish surrounding him show he has not conquered the other. A magnetic Peter Carroll gives Krapp a despairing freneticism that generates both laughter and sympathy. Valentijn Dhaenens’ SmallWaR takes us to the conflict of war proper, using verbatim accounts, and letters to and from soldiers and their families, from Attila the Hun to Afghanistan to reiterate the horrors of war, to ask questions: Why is dying for freedom glorious? Why is this pretence kept up? Dhaenens plays a female nurse and voices many of these concerns. Through the marvels of technology, several images of him as soldiers wearing hospital nightshirts move and speak on a black screen behind him. It is an unnerving, moving and at times almost unbearable statement against war. Flinders Street Baptist Church was an ideal setting for British group Stan’s Café‘sThe Cardinals, of which there are three, and a stage manager, who have lost the puppets for their Bible story show; they must play the parts themselves. From Eden to the resurrection (Jesus uses shears to clip shrubs so it’s not surprising Mary Magdalene mistakes him for the gardener), the results are hilarious. The crusades follow, and a modern tank appears. The infidel eventually defeats the crusader. Seriousness is replacing hilarity. A passenger plane is downed by a fighter, a suicide bomber blows himself up; we are in the current conflict with ISIL. The performance has impeccable timing and packs a hefty final anti-war punch. Neglected, and considered members of a dying race at home, as soldiers in World War I, Indigenous men found camaraderie and mateship in the trenches. On their return, the old divide reasserted itself. They were non-citizens again. Based on extensive interviews and diaries, letters and reports, Tom Wright’s Black Diggers, tellingly directed by Wesley Enoch, uncovers the story in some 50 brief scenes. The set’s graffiti-covered black walls become augmented with the names of characters and battlefields in Europe, Turkey and Palestine. Like the men’s history, these are eventually whitewashed over. Loose narratives illuminate the text – the under-age volunteer who persuades his mother to write the letter that will get him enlisted later successfully begs her to tell the truth so that he can escape war’s horror; the man who is desperate because he can’t give his mate the right burial and forever after, shellshocked, won’t give up the handful of dirt from where the man died; and Gerald, who ends in a wheelchair, and won’t join the Anzac march because he ‘doesn’t belong’. But there is also the pub manager who tells the barman to get lost when he stops an Aboriginal entering the bar with his white mate for a drink after the memorial service. The play is non-judgmental; but it’s poignant, powerful and superbly directed by Wesley Enoch and acted by the ensemble indigenous cast. It was a Festival highlight – drama of powerful statement, emotional impact and great theatrical accomplishment. Conflicts such as these remain unresolved. How long before they are?

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