Printable Copy1918: THE UNTOLD STORY
Hills Youth Theatre
Stirling Community Theatre
Until 19 Aug 2018

Review by Paige Mulholland

Stories about World War One are notoriously hard to get right these days, when so many of the big, heroic stories have been hashed and rehashed too many times to count. But the Hills Youth Theatre’s “1918: The Untold Story” eschews the big, heroic stories and goes for something much more elusive and much more immediate for their audience – the stories of the young people of Stirling, both those who went to war and those who were left behind.

With such a large cast to accommodate, the show has multiple intertwining plotlines, all centring around the Green family – Charlie Green, who lies about his age to join the war effort; Roy Green, who joins the war legally but against the wishes of his mother, Margaret; Roy’s new wife, Daisy; his younger sister Sarah; and father Robert. The family navigate rising racial tensions with the German population in Hahndorf, the expectations to support the war effort regardless of their political leanings, and the strain of being separated by, and eventually returning from, such intense trauma.

The show is mostly well-written and use of creative staging is excellent. The main issue with the show is its running time – upon entering the theatre the audience was told the show would run for one hour and forty minutes without an interval, but towards the end of the show the audience is left wondering if the usher misspoke and meant one hundred and forty minutes, as that is more indicative of the actual running time. Whether it was a communication error or a serious case of running overtime, the script could certainly stand to be edited down. The audience sees variations of the same scene multiple times (such as the footballers discussing their eagerness to join the war and their disdain for anyone who questions Australia’s involvement in the war), and, for a show called “1918”, there is too much time spent in 1914 on orientation. Failing that, the show at least needs an interval.

Particularly because the show is so long, it’s very impressive to see such a young cast fare so well. The cast are well-rehearsed, have excellent chemistry and do an admirable job of portraying quite heavy and mature subject matter. Often, though, the cast are given tasks that would be exceedingly difficult even for a professional adult cast – speaking in unison when they cannot see each other and have no guide for pacing, for example, or being given lines to speak while facing the back, in a theatre that doesn’t have the acoustics to carry their voices. The cast worked hard to meet these challenges, but often aren’t given the tools they need to truly master them.

The design of the set and costumes are excellent – the use of gauzy curtains to change settings was particularly aesthetically-pleasing and functional. The design team were obviously committed to being as historically accurate as possible while still creating innovative, imaginative scenes, and they do so very well.

“1918: The Untold Story” is a strong blend of true, local history – the kind that we hear so rarely – and relatable and engrossing characters. It needs a few good strikes with a red pen, but the cast, creative team and community have done a great job of telling an important story.