In commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the ANZACs’ landing at Gallipoli, the Australian Theatre for Young People (ATYP) collaborated with the State Library of NSW to create a play based on historical artefacts from WW1 including diaries, letters and photographs. The result was the compelling and touching piece, A Town Named War Boy, which paid tribute to the sacrifice of the ANZACs and brought their stories to life in a raw and honest light.
A Town Named War Boy is a striking combination of many excellent elements. Written by award-winning playwright Ross Mueller and directed by ATYP Artistic Director Fraser Corfield, and with a bright cast of actors (Brandon McClelland, Joshua Brennan, Simon Croker and Edward McKenna) all the components gel together.
The story is presented in a unique way: through interweaving scenes at war with the stark contrast of the therapist’s office wherein a soldier suffering PTSD confronts his memories. This allows for a profound insight into the horrors suffered by the soldiers. Yet whilst this piece is confronting and heart wrenching at times, it perfectly balances the gravity of the content with the light-hearted and good natured humour the ANZACs were renowned for, perfectly encapsulating the ANZAC legend in the style of the piece.
It takes time to adjust to the nonlinear chronology of the scenes, yet this time only enthrals the audience further in this interesting and creative concept. The stunning lighting design, by Emma Lockhart-Wilson, coupled with the music, composed by Steve Francis, and sound design, by Alistair Wallace, aid the transition between scenes. The lighting in the therapist’s office is cold and bleak, coupled with unsettling music, compared to the warmer lighting and brighter music during the earlier scenes, and further contrasted to the darkness and silence marred by gunshots and explosions during the fighting scenes. These contrasts in lighting and sound effectively guide the audience’s comprehension of and emotional journey between the shifting settings.
The simple backdrop, by Adrienn Lord, sets the location well and is used to dramatically enhance the war scenes. Moreover, the inclusion of the scattered journals and photographs is a constant reminder of the truth to the story.
The youthful energy of the brilliant cast echoes the adventurous spirit of the characters they portray. The actors perfectly encapsulate the excitability of the boys, particularly as they are the same age as the men they depict, making the historical stories more tangible and personal for the audience. The cast bounces off each other in their energy and dialogue, their camaraderie reflecting that of the ANZACs. Silence is used effectively to set the mood; rarely is there pause in dialogue during the more light-hearted scenes, yet during times of attack, the tension created through the silence is palpable. Similarly, the stilted conversation in the therapist’s office contrasts dramatically to the fast flying discourse when the soldiers are training or at peace, allowing the severity of the impacts of war to unsettle the audience.
Although the scenes are disjointed in chronology, the audience is still able to follow the journey and growth of the soldiers throughout the show. Joshua Brennan, as ‘Snow’, seamlessly transitions from his scenes at war to his scenes in his therapist’s office, yet by the end of the show you witness a man transformed, like the rest of his onstage peers. The journey from naïve, excitable boys, to scarred and vulnerable men, is a haunting one, particularly knowing all the stories are real accounts of actual men. The cast engages the audience in the lives of these men so well through their focused and stunning performances.
A Town Named War Boy is a touching commemoration to the ANZACs and a compelling piece of theatre. It was a confronting reminder of the horror of war whilst remaining an enjoyable and humorous play that showcased power of the human spirit.