herald

Wednesday 13 December 2017

Review

it starts in the courtyard. Straight away, our tour guide informs us that the Irish men who signed up to the 7th Battalion of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers in 1915 had no idea that they would end up in Gallipoli, Turkey. The heat, we're told, must have been unbearable.

Each man had his own reason for signing up - for money, king and country, the promise of Home Rule and so on. Our guide mentions ghosts - and then we see one. The wife of a soldier, brandishing papers. She's talking to us. Another - this time there are two. Soldiers marching. A few lean out of the top-floor windows of the barracks. Our tour is over - things are about to get real.

BATTLEFIELD

A unique and immersive theatrical undertaking, Pals - The Irish at Gallipoli doesn't care for wooden stages or comfy seats. The untold stories of the aforementioned Irish Battalion during the First World War, what we have here is a 60-minute play that invites us to sit on beds and window sills inside the barracks, within the actual rooms where the men of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers slept before and after training.

There are four soldiers standing before us - they used to be rugby players. Soon, they will swap the field for trenches. Things will not end well for these men. The 'Pals' wonder if their country is proud of them.

They are ordinary people, plunged into extraordinary circumstances. Scenes of birthday joy and rugby-playing antics over bunks are interspersed with battlefield horrors. One of the young men shares with us his letters home - true stories that speak of bullet wounds, hunger and a rare afternoon off.

Another has been punished for drunk and disorderly behaviour. Later, he'll watch as a friend's head is blown off. The fear and stress, for some, will be too much to bear.

This isn't a strict, documentary-like reconstruction of events. Instead, ANU Productions and director Louise Lowe deploy magnificent effects, lighting, movement, narrative and speech to ensure a memorable piece of historic drama. John Cronin is remarkably good; Thomas Reilly, a gifted storyteller. There are no boundaries between performer and spectator, which makes it that much harder to endure such sad and horrific tales and scenes of war.

Laura Murray's late-night dance with Cronin (a nurse and soldier sharing a rare moment of intimacy) will kill you. There's an eerie air of excitement and hope about the concluding scene in which we go back to the beginning, and watch as this brave band of brothers get set to take off on their adventure. A punch in the gut, for sure. Powerful stuff.

Until April 30 HHHHI

CHRIS WASSER

(COLLINS BARRACKS)

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