The State Library of NSW
Season: 29 April – 9 May
Bookings: Call 9270 2400 or visit atyp.com.au
The ability to revisit the past, immersing yourself in the experiences of those who have gone before you, is a gift. A Town Named War Boy undertakes the task of providing its audience with an authentic immersion in the world of young Australian soldiers 100 years ago. Drawing on the rich written resources of the State Library of NSW, Ross Mueller wrote this play, piecing together fragments of history to form a collective narrative. Fraser Corfield directs four young men in a depiction of the triumphs, tribulation and terror of WWI.
Prior to the performance, I was a little concerned that a theatrical revival of written accounts of war would wither into a dreary recitation of the content of the letters. However, I had no reason for concern! A clever interweaving of time periods, focusing on wartime and post-WWI, created a strong core narrative and allowed for deeper character development. The plot primarily concentrates on four men, or boys wanting to become men in the war, and exhibits their evolution of friendship, drawn closer through the experiences they share.
Each actor brings something unique to the table, comprising an exquisite cast. Joshua Brennan impeccably displayed the vast detriments of war on a soldier, aided with the shifts of time. This required a deep connection with his character, Snow, in order to convey his grappling with the loss of his best mates. I was intrigued with his aversion to the counsellor, defensive because he did not endure the same hardships on the war field, and contemptuous of his inability to wholly understand. Brandon McClelland showed diversity in his ability to take on roles of contrasting age and social status. I was impressed by his effortless portrayal of both, which led to successful enmeshing of time periods. Edward McKenna portrayed the natural leader of the clan, exuding charisma. Highly likeable and a true larrikin, McKenna injected great energy into the piece. Finally, Simon Croker depicted the young’un of the group on the cusp of 17, an artist, a dreamer, and in doing so, managed to display unerring comic timing. Croker’s character gathered much sympathy from the audience, being somewhat a misfit in a realm of war. The four together illustrated the camaraderie and mateship that has become emblematic of the Australian experience at war. This culminated in great amusement for the audience at the continual banter exchanged and good spirits in spite of the hardships faced.
The Metcalfe Auditorium in the State Library of NSW was transformed into a true theatrical space for the production, thanks to the cunning design of Adrienn Lord. Incorporation of sand across the stage was a clever touch, chameleonic between the Australian and Egyptian landscape, providing a continuum for the characters traversing the world. The prominent feature of land acted as a reminder of the negligible justification for the horrific war – being acquisition of land. A decaying wooden boat featured to the side of the stage, cunningly used in depiction of war scenes, as well as being utilised in a myriad of other fashions. A backdrop constructed of a paper-like substance appeared to be the unfurling of journal pages, allowing the handwritten stories to materialise before us on stage. This was reinforced by the various journals fettered across the stage, used as props during various points in the work.
A Town Named War Boy presents an amalgamation of art and history that acts as a pertinent reminder of the horrors Australians endured for us 100 years ago. Whilst bearing the brunt of such difficulties, good-natured humour never failed, and mateship persisted. This was fittingly surmised in the final words of the play, “Isn’t it marvellous what a man can put up with, and yet be happy.”