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PERSONAL FAMILY STORY SHARES EXPERIENCE OF BLOODY WAR

Print Version

BILL MASSEY’S TOURISTS
Written & performed by Jan Bolwell
Directed by Kerryn Palmer
Presented by Handstand Productions

at Whitireia Performance Centre, 25-27 Vivian Street, Wellington
From 24 Jul 2014 to 27 Jul 2014

Reviewed by Laurie Atkinson, 28 Jul 2014
originally published in The Dominion Post

“If you can survive Passchendale, you can survive anything,” says Jan Bolwell's grandfather in her third and most poignant solo play about her family. Though part fiction and part family stories, it conveys with a compelling simplicity what it was like for a 20 year-old New Zealander to be thrown into the maelstrom of bloody war.

A desk, a chair, a screen for slides and a string of flags provide the setting for young Jan's class project about the war to end all wars. Jan cautiously approaches her uncommunicative grandfather for stories and details of what it was like and what happened to him.

Like many soldiers he refuses to talk about the war or even attend RSA meetings and Anzac Day parades but Jan persists and eventually the old soldier, who was hospitalized, had electrotherapy shock treatment, and lost so many of his mates to both enemy and friendly fire, starts to tell Jan what it was like.

It is in some ways a one-woman Oh What a Lovely War whose original director, Joan Littlewood, once said that she liked emotion in the theatre because the word means “something that moves forward. Towards people.” Jan Bolwell's performance moves determinedly towards people through story, characters, song and dance.

At the heart of the play is a short dance that highlights the physical and mental agony of war with an emotional impact that is overpowering as the dancer moves to Handel's Ombra Mai Fu sung by Janet Baker and slides of men in the trenches show us the reality.

There are snapshots of the blind patriotism of Frank Milner, Headmaster of Waitaki Boys High, the brutality of sergeant majors, and the effect of the war on Private Bolwell and his mates. There are the familiar songs (If you were the only girl in the world) with unfamiliar lyrics which were created by the troops. Most of the music is arranged by Laughton Patrick.

Out of all the death, blood and chaos what does it all add up to? Not much says Jan's grandfather except one's mates; they are the ones who matter.
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