Bakehouse Theatre
Until 01 Mar 2018

Review by Paige Mulholland

In the Western world, it seems like we’ve pretty much reached saturation point with World War I. We study Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon at school, get our fill of trench foot and mustard gas, and then get to dredge it all up again every time someone decides they have a “unique” take on a hundred-year-old war for their play or blockbuster movie.

Writer and performer Ross Ericson’s themes aren’t anything ground-breaking – war is futile, soldiers are dehumanised and politicised, the terrors of war never really leave you, and all the usual wartime sentiment – but his outlook is innovative and his delivery is impassioned, and there’s something to be said for that.

Ericson’s one-man play follows the story of Jack, a British soldier who stayed on the battlefields long after World War I had ended, finding, identifying (where possible) and burying fallen soldiers. With a mix of “keep calm and carry on” British humour, absorbing storytelling and moments of poignant loneliness, we follow Jack on his journey through the trenches, and his struggle to give his fallen friend the homecoming he wanted.

A scene featuring traumatic night-terrors breaks the pensive, quiet flow of the show and seems a little redundant – in a play where Ericson looks at World War I through a unique and thought-provoking lens, it’s disappointing to see him present a formulaic war flashback; the strength of this show is in its quiet insight, and pumped in gunfire and yelling doesn’t contribute much.

So many war stories focus on what happens during the war, or what happens to those who try to come home, but what happens to those who are resigned to stay where they are and clean up the carnage? Ericson paints a melancholy story of a man who, resigned to meeting his death in the trenches, finds that he’s one of the few people, both at war and at home, who survives.

Ericson’s performance is well-rehearsed and multifaceted – he masters the British art of talking about deep human tragedy in the same way that you talk about the weather, while also portraying the profound loss felt by a soldier who has nothing to come home to. His strong accent means that some of his dialogue, particularly early on and in an unamplified space like the Studio, can be hard for Australian ears to follow, but certainly adds to the authenticity of the show.

Complemented by a simple, realistic costume and set, the stage quickly begins to feel like a bunker, and the audience quickly begins to feel themselves being pulled back in time. If you think you might still have some World War I story stamina left, I would recommend spending it here.

Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)