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The Unknown Soldier

Photography by Heidrun Lohr

A Monkey Baa Theatre Company production, THE UNKNOWN SOLDIER, by Sandra Eldridge, at the Lend Lease Darling Quarter Theatre. Terrace 3 / 1-25 Harbour Street, Sydney, 18 May – 22 May.

THE UNKNOWN SOLDIER, is a new Australian play, to honour the Centenary of WW1, written by Monkey Baa Co-Creative Director Sandra Eldridge. Monkey Baa Theatre Company, founded in 1997, has been adapting Australia’s most well-loved stories for young people (aged 3-18), staging and touring them around the country, working with schools, arts and children’s organisations across remote, regional, rural and metropolitan Australia. THE UNKNOWN SOLDIER, is the first original play, produced by Money Baa, a new direction for the organisation.

THE UNKNOWN SOLDIER is a double story. In the present time, a young boy, Charlie, is staying with his Aunt Angela, whilst his mum cares for his father, a soldier, recently returned from the war in Afghanistan, who is suffering from post traumatic emotional adjustments. Charlie, eagerly plays computer war games but becomes distracted with a trunk from the attic in which he finds a collection of letters and other memorabilia from a soldier who was engaged in the battle of Fromelle, in the fields of France, a century ago. His curiosity, aroused, using his computer skills, he and his aunt research and investigate the reality of the letter’s world – which is abreacted for us, and so, introduce us to Albert, the WW1 soldier, and a mother/nurse, Grace.

There is a familiarity about the structure and story, but, Director, Matt Edgerton, with support from Set and Costume Designer, Anna Gardiner, subtly lit by Max Cox, has beautifully evoked this story with gentle and clear concept, coaxing the two actors: Felix Johnson and Sandra Eldridge, into simply told performances. The direct, simple clarity of this production has emotional impact, manifested by a particularly vivid and complex Sound Design, by David Stalley – the Sound is a third ‘character’ in this story, and allows us to immerse in both the worlds/stories, with imaginative ease.

55-minutes in length, THE UNKNOWN SOLDIER,  for both the children and the adults in the audience I was with, was an involving story that kept us in a thrall of emotional and educational learning. Connecting the tragedy of the World War 1 experiences and arcing it to our present, participatory war zones, e.g. Afghanistan, and the tragedy of loss and the living violence that our veterans suffer around us today, is particularly apt, and gives us, as it does young Charlie, in the story, pause, to the romantic embracing of the ‘games of war’ on our television, cinema screens and computers. This gentle play respectful of the past gently brings -places – our consciousness to the present.

James Brown, a former Australian Army officer, today working as the Military Fellow at the Lowy Institute, in his recent book: ANZAC’S LONG SHADOW (2014), tells, asks us:

A century ago we got it wrong. We sent thousands of young Australians on a military operation that was barely more than a disaster. It’s right that a hundred years later we should feel strongly about that. But have we got our remembrance right? What lessons haven’t we learned about war, and what might be the cost of our Anzac obsession?

In this play, Ms Eldridge, gently poses that idea to her audience, and, maybe, invites us to contemplate, with respect and compassion, the plight of our present day soldier and veteran. Young Charlie in this play has begun a very important journey in respect to his dad and war, by its conclusion. Last year’s Sydney Theatre Company (STC) and (more importantly) co-production with the Australian Defence Force (ADF), THE LONG WAY HOME, began this exposure-conversation powerfully.

Monkey Baa, with THE UNKNOWN SOLDIER, fulfils its brief magnificently for their young audience, the adults of the future. Lest We Forget. We will, should remember them.

Monkey Baa and the Australian Theatre for Young People (ATYP) – A TOWN NAMED WAR BOY -two of the cornerstones for the future of the Australian theatre. Lest we forget, Mr Brandis.