‘Minefields and Miniskirts: Australian Women and the Vietnam War’ reviewed by Gordon the Optom

by April 16, 2015

Minefields and Miniskirts: Australian Women and the Vietnam War’ was adapted from the original, award-winning book, written by Dubliner and documentary-maker, Siobhán McHugh.  Siobhán chose to live in Australia after reading Tim Winton’s ‘Cloudstreet’. The adaptation was made by director of physical and musical theatre, Terence O’Connell. O’Connell was director of many musical theatrical tours, and was part of the organising team for the Melbourne Commonwealth Games spectacular opening.

The history of wars is usually recorded by the servicemen, now on behalf of the thousand Australian women who took a part in the Vietnam War, the ‘Sheilas’ get their well-earned and overdue chance to tell their stories.

This most memorable, one and a half hour play (no interval) is being presented by Harbour Theatre Inc. and MosArts as part of their 2015 season. The performances are at the Camelot Theatre, 16 Lochee Street, Mosman Park until the 22nd April. Curtain up at 7.30 pm. there is also a matinee on Sunday 19th April at 2.00 pm.

Part proceeds will be donated to Legacy to help our need Veterans and their families, in honour of the Gallipoli Centenary and 40th Anniversary of the Vietnam War.

 

The open stage is at several levels, all quite low. At the rear of the stage is a scarlet wall with a central arch. There are numerous Vietnamese, golden motifs and symbols painted on the wall. The sidewalls depict bamboo fields. The set was built and painted by Brian Mahoney, Phil Redding, David Champion, Tina Barker and Matt Cuccovia.

Seated at the side of the stage is a 1960s hippy (Toni-Maree Olton – also musical director), with flowers in her hair. She strums at her guitar and sings Bob Dylan songs with a crystal clear voice.

 

       A spotlight picks out Margaret, a Vet’s wife (Katherine English) who tells us how she met her husband, and then married him only a couple of days before leaving for Nam. Throughout the play, Margaret continues her story, telling us of her loneliness as a war wife, and how her real hell arose when her husband returned home.

      The main story follows four young women through their experiences in Vietnam, from luxury hotels to the cold, mud sodden fields.

      When innocent and timid Eve (Vickie Billingham) meets some friends in a pub, she had the ‘great idea’ of volunteering to help the soldiers, nothing too bloody, just a little bit of help where needed. However, for poor Eve, life in Nam was like something that she had never experienced before. Similarly, Sandy (Nicola Bond) joined a couple of friends who were going over to entertain the troops – after all, actors would get comfortable accommodation and priority treatment, well Bob Hope did. The reality hit them hard.

     Kathy (Grace Hitchin) was a qualified nurse, going to save the injured ’Aussie lads’, but found herself helping nationalities that she never expected. When the local rag’s youngest journalist, Ruth (Kirstie Francis) decided to go and report on the happenings, dare she tell the folk at home the whole story?

 

This play was developed from a collection of true experiences and memories, gleaned from the 50 women that Siobhán interviewed whilst writing the book. The tales range from funny, to horrendous and tragic.

The actors are performing this play for a second outstanding season. The horror of Eve’s stories, related in a heart tearing fashion by Vickie, was guaranteed to make the tissue packs come out. Grace – as Kathy – gave a strong performance, who as the experienced and hardened nurse still struggled to cope with the misery. Sandy’s (Nicola) romantic tales and lighter anecdotes contrasted well with the other’s dramas. Margaret’s (Katherine) stories – told by a housewife – were almost as chilling. Ruth (Kirstie) had to write about the horrors of war.

The events were confronting but with such a professional cast under the supervision of a well-proven director, Peter Kirkwood, the 90 minutes flew past. Some relief from the gruesome fears came from the dedicated cast’s beautiful singing. It came as a surprise to me how a person who had just acted a traumatic scene could give such a moving and perfectly in tune rendition of some of the songs of the 1960s. A special mention of Katherine and Grace’s powerful and sensitive singing of Joan Baez and Joni Mitchell songs.

Rob Tagliaferri and Peter Kirkwood’s lighting, coupled with Vanessa Gudgeon’s quadraphonic sound effects of helicopters overhead, explosions etc. gave a real depth to the play. The audience were not simply watching you were dragged right into the centre of the misery by the powerful acting and magnificent cameos.

None of the cast left the stage, and yet the pace galloped along. The clever script cutting back and forward between scenes and events, helped to stop the whole play from becoming too dark and depressing.

Youngsters should see this play to know what their grandparents went through, and the truth of war.

This was an amazing production, with faultless, quality acting. VERY moving and surely a contender for play of the year. Not easy watching, but a true report of a war that was sneered at by many of the older World War ll soldiers, as being a sham war.

If you appreciate sheer quality, then this immensely moving play is for you.