April 23, 2012

Other People’s Wars

Pushing the boundaries, Other People's Wars almost comes across as controversial for the sake of it.
I went into this with some reservations yet telling myself to remain open minded.
Award winning company The Bacchanals reunite with award winning playwright Dean Parker (Slouching Toward Bethlehem) to present the stage adaptation of Nicky Hager's controversial 2011 book. OPW looks at New Zealand's involvement in the "War on Terror" and what Hager claims really happened behind the stories of peace keeping and humanitarian aid.

As the audience enters the cast are milling about on stage in various types of camo pants, combat boots and plain shirts. The show opens with each of them introducing themselves and which characters they will play. This is a welcoming start to the show, not often does the audience meet their entertainers on stage. However, this initial reaction is soon overtaken by a man in a sequined Uncle Sam costume singing "Born In The USA" while the rest of the cast dance behind him wearing burkahs. Culturally insensitive, yes. Entertaining? Not so much.
Throughout the show the tone rapidly yoyos from dead pan serious to almost slapstick humour, a technique which is hard to swallow considering the tense subject matter. At one point a battle plan is explained using paper cut outs of people, a wooden truck and two cast members with toy planes making "pyew pyew" noises to show they are firing. Perhaps this was meant to be a commentary on how badly the American army planned their battles but it just came across like they were making a joke out of a clearly not funny situation. In places the dialogue was too heavy on the details, making it hard to fully take in all the information being given. Lots of dates and times and technical terms all unloaded in rapid succession in an attempt to cover all the necessary details.
The cast all perform admirably, each performing multiple roles of both genders. Having scenes in may different settings calls for some very quick costume and scenery changes, all of which the cast handle easily and and without interrupting the flow of the story. The same man who brought us sequin clad Uncle Sam also plays George W. Bush in a plain white mask and black cloak, the symbolism of this costume isn't exactly clear, a faceless man surrounded by his commando cronies? Bush is anything but faceless, being the former president.
The lighting and sound are brilliant (if at times painfully loud). The show features two live battle scenes with extremely realistic light and sound effects including air strikes, bombing and of course gun fire. It really does feel like the audience is caught in the middle of a brutal attack. However, a show would be nothing if it simply rides on the back of well designed and operated lighting and sound. 
While the presentation of information is all one sided, OPW does leave the final decision for the audience to make up its own mind. This is the sort of show you must see to form a conclusion, not one you can simply be told about, in saying that I can't honestly recommend spending the $20 to see it.
Other People's Wars is a great as a show to question and challenge the audience, not so much as one that will entertain.

Cast: Diana Aurisch, Kirsty Bruce, Joe Dekkers-Reihan, Brian Everson, Alex Greig, Julia Harrison, Brianne Kerr, Hilary Penwarden, Johnny Potts, Paul Waggott.
Directed by: David Lawrence

BATS Theatre, April 17-28 8:00 pm (No show ANZAC Day)
Tickets: Full $20
            Concession $14

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