ONCE ON CHUNUK BAIR
29/07/2015 - 08/08/2015
CLASSIC NEW ZEALAND PLAY TO BE STAGED IN CHRISTCHURCH ON 100 YEAR ANNIVERSARY OF CHUNUK BAIR
The epic World War One centenary production that commemorates the courage and sacrifice of New Zealand soldiers during the Gallipoli offensive of 1915.
ONCE ON CHUNUK BAIR is a passionate, gritty drama by renowned New Zealand writer Maurice Shadbolt about the camaraderie, courage and heroism of New Zealand soldiers early in World War One on the Gallipoli Peninsula. On the high ground of Chunuk Bair, the soldiers of the Wellington regiment deal with malnutrition, water deprivation and injury. They fight bravely, with no support, but with defiant black humour and enormous strength and fortitude.
Shadbolt interprets this episode of the war as a defining moment in the birth of New Zealand as a nation. The play will inspire in the audience pride in their New Zealand heritage and a challenge to live with courage and passion.
ONCE ON CHUNUK BAIR has significance for Canterbury people of all ages whose relatives served at Gallipoli. It will appeal to a large cross-section of the community from veterans and their families to New Zealanders from all walks of life. It is an occasion for Canterbury communities to come together to celebrate the memory of our national heroes.
“We believe this is an important story that must be told and made accessible to all sections of the Christchurch community,” says producer Helen Moran. “As the second week of our season falls precisely 100 years on from the campaign on Chunuk Bair, this is a never-to-be-repeated opportunity to crown the WW1 centenary events in Christchurch with a stunning theatrical tribute.”
“With a cast of well-known professional actors, set designed by Chris Reddington, lighting by Joe Hayes and direction by Martin Howells, we have a creative team of enormous talent and experience.”
The Imagine Charitable Trust acknowledges the outstanding commitment of the Air Force Museum of New Zealand to this World War One centenary event with their sponsorship valued at over $68,000, which makes the venue available for the performances.
One Man Banned Productions has exclusive rights to perform ONCE ON CHUNUK BAIR in Canterbury for 2015.
Air Force Museum of New Zealand, Wigram
29 July – 8 August 2015
Wednesday, Friday, Saturday 7.30 pm, Thursday 6 pm
Saturday Matinees 3 pm, Sunday 2 August at 6 pm
School students $15
Concessions & group discounts available
Tickets from eventfinda.co.nz, 0800BUYTIX
NOBBY/DUSTY – SHAQUILLE STIRLING
PORKY – TOM TREVELLA
SMILER – JONO MARTIN
MAC – LANCE McBRIDE
HOLY – DAVID ALLEN
SERGENT FRANK – ADAM BROOKFIELD
FRED – BEN FREETH
SCRUFFY – PETER RUTHERFORD
COLONEL CONNOLLY – RALPH JOHNSON
LIEUTENANT HARKNESS – CAMERON DOUGLAS
OTAKI GEORGE – WHARE MIHINUI
BASSETT – LOGAN POCOCK
FIRST SOLDIER – SHAQUILLE STIRLING
SECOND SOLDIER – (? Doubled)
DIRECTOR – MARTIN HOWELLS
SET – CHRIS REDDINGTON
LIGHTING DESIGN – JOE HAYES
SOUND DESIGN – MARTIN HOWELLS
STAGE MANAGER – FRANC BOL
TECHNICAL OPERATION – ALEXANDRA LE COCQ
PROPS – JULIAN ANDERSON
COSTUME – NORMAN FORSEY, SYLVIA HOUSTON
PUBLICITY – KAREN ZELAS, RACHAEL KING, KAREN SHEPARD, LUKE WILLIAMS, NATHAN TODD, HELEN MORAN
EDUCATIONAL RESOURCES – PETER RUTHERFORD
PRODUCER – HELEN MORAN , ONE MAN BANNED PRODUCTIONS IMAGINE Charitable Trust in Association with THE AIR FORCE MUSEUM OF NEW ZEALAND
Battles within battles
Review by Erin Harrington 02nd Aug 2015
Maurice Shadbolt’s Once On Chunuk Bair dramatizes the brief taking of Chunuk Bair from Turkish forces on 8 August 1915 by the Wellington Infantry Brigade during the disastrous Gallipoli campaign, and productions of the play are marking centenary commemorations across the country. 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 (Shaquille Stirling, Jonathan Martin, Tom Trevella, Lance McBride, Adam Brookfield, Ben Freeth, Peter Rutherford, Ralph Johnson, Cameron Douglas, Whare Mihinui, Logan Pocock, Thomas Flynn, Matt McMenamin) work 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 castmates, 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, particularly when it comes to articulation and projection, 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. The soldiers enter from a side marked by bushes and other greenery but the crest of the hill, beyond which the soldiers look out to the Dardanelles and eventually run towards their slaughter, takes on a more menacing, almost gothic cast.
The period costumes (Norman Forsey, Sylvia Houston) and extensive props (Julian Anderson) create a sense of weight and authenticity; nothing seems out of place. The atmospheric lighting (Joe Hayes, operated by Alexandra le Cocq) turns from representational to stylised as the day wears on and the situation grows bleaker.
It is a pity the sound (uncredited) feels like it is missing something, a general ambience and a sense of directionality perhaps. Given the cohesiveness of the rest of the design I couldn’t tell if the gunfire and explosions we hear are the entire acoustic environment of the play, or just those specific sounds that are relevant to the direct action or marked out in the script.
The matinee I attend feels like it drags significantly, but the biggest weakness of Shadbolt’s script is its peculiar pacing. The action is driven by the dramatic irony inherent in the audience’s knowledge of the impending catastrophe, the soldiers’ dawning realisation that they are little more than meat waiting to be processed, and the ongoing arguments over the nature of war, empire and heroism that occur between the idealistic and energetic Colonel Connolly (Ralph Johnson) and Sergeant Frank (Adam Brookfield), whose cynicism about the war’s power plays is tempered by his deeply humane attitude towards the men under his command.
Despite this sense of downward momentum, the exhausted, demoralised soldiers arrive onstage and, like the audience, are instructed to ‘hurry up and wait’. The small, intimate conversations between the soldiers certainly enrich our experience of character and theme, but serve structurally to hold up the action as we pass the time. 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.
At the session I attend, many of the audience spend much of the performance in near silence and are quite visibly moved, something that is exacerbated by the knowledge that we are watching the events play out one hundred years later, almost exactly to the day. I only wish that the script itself was a little easier on those who choose to stage it.
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