‘Uncle Jack’ reviewed by Gordon the Optom

by April 25, 2014

‘Uncle Jack’ is a ‘not-to-be-missed’ play, scripted by Perth’s Ross Lonnie. Ross has written and presented more than a dozen plays, but this 80-minute autobiographical account, containing passages from Lieutenant Colonel William (Bill) Lonnie’s war service journal must be his best. Ross has carefully blended this Military Cross holder’s wartime history, with the life experiences of his son at the same age.

Being brought up around returning soldiers, I rarely go to see war films at the cinema and must admit that I wasn’t particularly looking forward to seeing this play. However, the dialogue, acting, direction and production were outstanding and I am grateful to be reminded of the tragic happenings at this ANZAC time of the year.

RSL members get a special discount at the Box Office.

The play can be seen in the Blue Room’s main theatre, James Street, Northbridge each night at 7.00 pm until the 10th May.

 

The audience are on two sides of the stage. The centrepiece is a 3-metre rotating floor, thickly covered in soil representing the virgin land being cleared. An old piano lies against a wall. (Set design by Patrick James Howe)

        It is 1962, and a 17 year-old boy, Doug (Ben Hall), has just left an expensive, private school in Perth and is awaiting his exam results. To expand his real-life education and to experience real graft, Doug has been sent by his father to work on a farm owned by an old war comrade, Jack (Quintin George). Jack had been only 16 yrs when he signed up, and was still under 21 at the war end.

    When Doug arrives at the farm in the Narrogin / Collie area, he finds the middle-aged cockie with a beer bottle in his hand and slightly the worse for wear. Straight away Douglas is put to work and very quickly his ‘Sheila-like’ hands are shredded with lifting heavy stones.

       The war has taken its toll on Jack, and we join in his flashbacks, and some of his horrendous experiences at El Alamein.

 

Soseh Yekanians’ direction is wonderful, she has truly captured the suffering, the shell shock and the lifelong camaraderie that developed in those tragic circumstances. She has helped the playwright demonstrate the finer points and skills of everyday life back then. Soseh has chosen an extraordinary, very experienced cast in Quintin and Ben.

Without a flicker, the depth of characters were slowly but powerfully released to us. You got a real insight of Jack’s kind heart, and minutes later shared his wartime suffering; an exceptional performance by Quintin. Ben led us through Doug’s maturing process with another magnificent performance.

There was a brief sequence where Jack and Doug’s father were under attack, and the tech work was outstanding as the soil flew around, the explosions echoed, the thick mist and smoke made you felt that you were really there in the centre of this miserable fracas. (Sound design Carley Gagliardi, Lighting design by Tegan Evans). When the still came across the battlefield, silhouette images (Brigette Downes) were projected onto the walls.

The props and costumes looked genuine, old and battered (set, Patrick James Howe) and the finest of details, such as the stamps on the envelopes, were even correct for the period.

To say that the audience applause was enthusiastic would be an understatement. The actors accepted a curtain call, but modestly refrained from accepting what could easily have been another two or three.