Red Stitch takes a different tack this week with the Australian premiere of Danish playwright Thor Bjorn Krebs’ About Tommy, a documentary-style play exploring the horrors and absurdities of life in a war zone.
“It’s definitely a different kind of play for Red Stitch. It’s not a kitchen sink drama – there are lots of different characters and it jumps around a lot, so for me it’s about remembering ‘Who am I next? Where am I meant to be?’” actor and Red Stitch founding member Kate Cole told the Star Observer.
“It’s like watching a documentary that’s set on the ground, mixed with talking heads, all the while going in and out of the action… it’s a complicated structure.”
That complexity brings specific challenges for Cole, the play’s only female actor alongside fellow ensemble member Matthew Whitty and special guest actor Paul Henri. Cole plays six different characters, among them a captain, a mother, a chaplain, an advertising executive and a nurse. Various other elements have to be meticulously timed to make these transitions appear seamless, as Cole explained:
“We’re using lots of multimedia projections, lots of screens and microphones – it’s a technical heavy production.”
About Tommy’s unique documentary style is no accident – it’s a result of the play’s roots, based as it is on real accounts from those on the ground in the Balkan wars. Tommy’s fictionalised story is inspired by the struggle of those real life soldiers-turned-peacekeepers: having joined the Danish army, he’s posted to the former Yugoslavia as part of the UN’s peacekeeping mission in the ‘90s. While there, he struggles to understand the violence around him, and the constraints of his role as a peacekeeper.
“[These soldiers] were trained for active duty but then put in the situation as peacekeepers by the UN, so they couldn’t intervene; they were bridled. All they could do is stand by and watch as awful things happened. How does one compute that and get on with life?”
Cole admitted she’s always been something of a war documentary buff, something that’s held her in good stead for this production, which she said at its heart is about post-traumatic stress.
“You know when you watch those incredible war documentaries and people talk about the things that they’ve seen? It’s fascinating to see what makes them crack – they never react in the way you expect. The play is about watching various characters on the ground and how they remember these events, and their loved ones back at home trying to help them,” she said.
“It’s a very stressful and sad situation for family members seeing the person that they knew and loved returning as someone else… often someone they can’t really help.
“It’s not a night filled with the horrors of war, it’s more about how one comprehends and processes those horrors, particularly as a peacekeeper.”
INFO: About Tommy, Red Stitch Theatre, April 26-May 25. www.redstitch.net