Printable CopyTHE GREAT WAR
The Adelaide Festival
Dunstan Playhouse
Until 11 Mar 2018

Review by Fran Edwards

With so many productions about war and its devastation, a number concentrate on WWI, and this is one of them. Like others it uses letters – this time from a French soldier – as the basis of the storyline. Mainly they are the letters of a young soldier, Prospert, writing to his mother. And they paint a graphic picture.

The medium is the point of difference here and Hotel Modern use ordinary, everyday materials to create their battlefield. The production weaves from a lighthearted look at the beginning of the war and the absurdity of the situations that created it to the grim reality of the trenches and the everyday hell that the combatants endured.

With the aid of dirt, water, bits of wood, parsley and other plants the WW1 landscape is shown through the camera onto a screen at the back of the stage. All of the workings can be seen by the audience but the eye is constantly drawn to changing images being shown. The sound effects are realistic, with the use of smoke and fire to heighten the impact of the conflict. The effect of shells and machine guns is believable seen through the eye of the camera.

While the method is engaging and the story compelling, the voiceover is sometimes difficult to hear and there are spots where the narrative dies and it loses interest. The contemplative moments where the changing landscape (covering and absorbing the bodies of the fallen) and the horror of walking through trenches deep with mud and submerged bodies needs to be recognized and thought on, but there are (forgive the pun) dead spots.

This is a production worth seeing if only for the ingenuity and skill of the performers. Arthur Sauer, composer and Foley artist, is at the centre of this production, ably assisted by Herman Helle and by actors Pauline Kalker, Arlene Hoornweg and Menno Vroon. Creating entire scenarios before the audience’s eyes is done smoothly and quietly, the placement of the non-animated puppets is achieved with minimal fuss.

I would have enjoyed a further exploration of the letters as a backdrop to some of the quieter moments, but mostly the background was as it needed to be and framed an interesting look at a point in history that still echoes.

Another addition to the varied productions brought to Adelaide for our Festival that will expand your definition of theatre.