Review by Kathleen Gallagher, playwright & film-maker, 5 Aug 2015:
This is a stunning, subtle and eloquently directed production of Maurice Shadbolt's masterpiece on war and peace.
It was amazing being in the Airforce Musem with all the old WWII planes around us and stark set of Chunuk Bar silhouetted against the back wall by Joe Hayes. We felt as if we were literally on the battlefield with the NZ soldiers of the Wellington division 100 years ago.
Martin Howells in his direction and Maurice Shadbolt in his writing show us clearly and lucidly that war is about killing other living breathing human beings and that war is about destruction and devastation of environment, no matter what clothes you are wearing or who is telling you to do what.
The casting immaculate, the actors are playful, witty, sad, heart stopping, and their timing is impeccable. The diverse actors – old, young, weak, strong, Maori, Pakeha Irish, Pakeha English, pathetic, prayerful, hopeful, despairing – are each of them potent in their own way. It becomes clear in the course of the action who New Zealanders – as opposed to Britons – are, and how it was that at Chunuk Bar and Gallipoli, New Zealand became a c20th nation in her own right, in the same way and at the same time and place that Turkey did.
This play gives us an intimate understanding of who we are. It should be filmed and played at Gallipoli for ANZAC Day 2016.
Review by Charlie Gates, 3 Aug 2015, for The Press
This handsome production of a New Zealand war classic does not quite overcome the drawbacks of its venue …
As they battle on, trying to hold the hill from the Turks, [the soldiers] realise they are no longer fighting for England and Empire, but for their homeland of New Zealand. It is a neat metaphor for the idea that New Zealand gained a sense of its own identity and independence from the bloody crucible of a brutal war and the hard lesson of being sent to die by British generals.
The battle-scorched peak of Chunuk Bair has been recreated … for this ambitious production. It is a stunning-looking show, with historically accurate props and costumes, a large and dramatic set, and a genuine feel for the grime and horror of a World War I battlefield.
There are strong performances among this cast of … a dozen men and some beautifully staged moments. But, perhaps this show would benefit from a more intimate setting … A handsome and ambitious show, this is a worthy and entertaining way to mark the centenary of an important moment in New Zealand history …
Review by Erin Harrington, 2 Aug 2015, for Theatreview:
… One Man Banned's production, directed by Martin Howells, is beautifully presented and delivered with commitment and a deep respect for its historical source material.
The large ensemble cast … works hard to bring nuance to characters who are often rendered with broad strokes, and they each find a keen balance between the script's pathos and wit.
Each character is given an opportunity to present their case: their reasons for fighting, their attitude towards the war, their hopes, their relationship with home, their identity as a New Zealander. There is a demonstrable camaraderie, as both characters and cast-mates, which elevates some of the more prosaic and didactic sections of text.
The play is as interested in interrogating the origins of national identity as it is in celebrating and commemorating the lives of the soldiers, and together the characters paint a flattering and nostalgic picture of (mostly Pakeha) Kiwi masculinity that is marked by mateship, pragmatism, a growing distrust of imperial authority and a willingness to get the job done. The play opens with “I Vow to Thee My Country” with no small amount of irony.
The performance occurs within one of the large exhibition halls at the Air Force Museum of New Zealand, so we are surrounded by vintage aircraft and, when entering and exiting, walk past exhibits of wartime artefacts. This poses some significant acoustic challenges … but offers some extraordinary environmental set dressing.
The production's design is impressive and each element works together to create a coherent stage world that feels like it is caked with dust, drenched with sweat and wallowing in desperation. Chris Reddington's imposing and rugged set is both sanctuary and prison …
I sometimes feel like the production itself battles against the script as much as the characters battle against their enemies – be they the waiting Turks, the British who have failed to support them, or the absurdity of war …
Once on Chunuk Bair Reviews