In Their Footsteps & Rattling the Keys | Theatre Travels

Image by Becky Matthew Photography

After an ironic interruption in 2020, Theatre Travels’s short play festival NO: INTERMISSION returns with four new plays this year. The first week’s selection travels from war-torn Vietnam to the isolation of Coober Pedy to explore themes of regrets, violence, and death.

All major historical events have a primary narrative, the one that gets put into history books and retold over and over again. But there are also the other stories that don’t get told, that fall to the wayside and get lost in silence. In Their Footsteps is a verbatim theatre piece by Ashley Adelman and Infinite Variety Productions about the untold stories of American women in the Vietnam War. The script, originally designed as a radio play, uses the stories of five women who were in Vietnam during the 1960s across a wide range of positions: Ann Kelsey (Linda Nicholls-Gidley) was a civilian librarian, Judy Jenkins Guadino (Nola Bartolo) worked for Special Services Recreation, Sam Christie (Sonya Kerr) was a Red Cross Donut Dollie, Lily Adams (Suzann James) was a US Army Nurse, and Lucki Allen (Rowena Robinson) was part of the Women’s Army Corps Intelligence.

Director Carly Fisher emphasised the play’s focus on the forgotten American women of the Vietnam War by placing memorial cards in the audience’s seats naming some of the women who died but who remain unrecognised by the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington DC. James Burchett’s set design also alluded to the military context of the women’s memories with wooden crates and jerry cans softened by large bunches of red clover.

The performances were relaxed, with pacing by Fisher reminiscent of a long chat rather than a documentary interview. The women swapped memories of the beginning of their involvement in the war, their unexpected arrival in Vietnam, as well as the friends and fun they had while completing their duties. But, of course, there were horrors, some unique to war zones, others more pedestrian like harassment and assault. Nicholls-Gidley conveyed the isolation of these women simply but effectively while Kerr and James stood out for their depiction of the emotional labour required of medical care providers. The stories were varied, painting a complex portrait of life for these women far from home and growing more distance every day between themselves and their loved ones.

Image by Becky Matthew Photography

The second production of the first week of NO: INTERMISSION was a new work from Zoe Muller about a group of aimless youths in Coober Pedy in the aftermath of a murder. The script circles relentlessly around their troubled pasts and the few opportunities they have for bright futures. There is potential in this work for an exploration of rural poverty and the social isolation of young people in particular, but a handful of elements including repetitive dialogue, underdeveloped plot, and cliched exposition overwhelm the glimmers of interest.

Lachie Pringle’s performance of the central antagonist was compelling in its sympathetic portrayal of addiction and the crippling pressures placed on young men while James Ong’s character worked as a counter-example of a young man who internalises his difficult circumstances and learns not to strive for more.

The surrounding context for these characters was jam-packed with extremes including drug addiction and distribution, alcoholism, murder, suicide, poverty, and mental illness. Director Rosie Niven combined these plot points with the heightened emotions of young adulthood which resulted in nearly every conversation ending in screaming, fist-slamming arguments. Additionally, the set design, also by Burchett, spread the cramped, run-down house across Chippen St Theatre’s large stage space to create a living room, dining room, and outdoor space. These two elements of the production served to unbalance any subtle emotions at work in the characters’ lives and disperse the anxiety, claustrophobia, and pressure of the heat wave with damaging effect.

The two plays in the first week of NO: INTERMISSION take markedly different approaches to theatre in their depictions of overlapping themes of violence and regret especially in the face of death. The closing lines of In Their Footsteps were particularly poignant for Lily Adams’s assertion that the good times, the successes, the triumphs are never worth the sacrifices of war. A sentiment from history that’s worth holding on to.

In Their Footsteps and Rattling the Keys ran from March 17th – 20th at Chippen St Theatre as part of NO: INTERMISSION

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