Sir John Monash is a man who needs no introduction.
One of Australia’s most prolific military Generals, he is immortalised in countless memorials, streets and buildings across the country. However, there was a lot more to the man than just his contributions to the Australian army.
Despite his achievements, Monash was flawed, stubborn and pushy, some even saying devious. But even before his fame, women adored him – he carried an air of power. His romances played a huge part in his personal life, specifically those between him and three women in particular – Annie Gabriel, Victoria Moss and Elizabeth “Lizette” Bentwitch. For a man who could command entire armies and governments, one who was admired by and a close friend of King George V, he more than struggled with the loves of his life.
Monash in Love and War is a play about just that. Written by Andrew Joseph, the new play details the usually overlooked parts of his life. I was fortunate enough to attend a performance of the play on Anzac day, and what better way to honour those who have served our country than by learning about the life of one of Australia’s most notable and respected Military figures.
Joseph’s cleverly written script intertwines elements of Monash’s personal and professional life, showing that his struggled transcended through love and war. Rosemary Johns’ direction was clear and cohesive, with every action and scene deliberate and meaningful.
A particular highlight of the production was the visual and sound design (by John Lloyd Fillingham and Michael Havir, respectively) – videos and projection were cleverly used to transform the location of each scene, with music underscoring the highs and lows of Monash’s life. The Victorian aesthetic maintained throughout the show’s costuming and set helped the actors and audience alike to travel back to the early 1900s. Although using a minimalistic approach, every element seemed to serve a particular purpose to he relevant scene, with the minimalism almost aiding the transformative quality of the performance space.
Ezra Bix’s performance as Sir John Monash was a fabulous display of composure, being able to shift back and forth through the life of one man with ease. A special note of praise goes to Adam May in the role of Fred Gabriel, his tremendous anger genuinely scaring the audience at several points during the performance. As an ensemble work, all performers had great chemistry, using their space well for each interaction. Janine Atwill, Asleen Mauthoor and Anita Torrance all displayed opposing depictions of the women in Monash’s life, showing the true spectrum of his lovers. The supporting roles, played by Claire Pickering and Rebekah Hill helped create a sense of cohesion, filling all potential holes in the story woven by the leads.
Monash in Love and War is a fascinating insight into a part of history which is often overlooked. Playing for a limited season until May 6 at Chapel off Chapel, it is definitely one for History fans and Nationalists alike.