By Carly Fisher
In 1942, Australians fought the Japanese on the Kokoda track, in one of toughest military campaigns of the war, which claimed the lives of over 600 men and left another 1000 severely injured or ill from tropical diseases. Kokoda, written and directed by Peter Maddern, focuses on the story of one of the 600 – one man who proudly fought the Japanese in the name of his beloved Australia.
Private Morris Powell – a young inexperienced fighter called on to be soldier when the fighting of 1942 escalates and further battalions of Australian men are called on to serve. We meet Powell after his landing in New Guinea, his youthful optimism clear and his mates surrounding him. It would be fair to say that by the time we encounter Powell, he has determined the harshness of the landscape but remains unaware of the brutalities of battle – he is barely trained – ‘a chocolate soldier’ rather than defense force – considered capable of wearing a uniform but little else and yet called on to fight the Japanese who, at the time of landing, over powered them 10 to 1. We watch Powell as he develops from this point through to battle and witness his hopeful idealism be shaded by the loss of friends, the psychological impacts of war and the terrors of Kokoda.
Throughout the production, an intense and clever soundscape plays. This has been co-designed by Andres Diez Bianco and Josh Williams, with assistance from Jarrod Windham. We are given no break from the buzzing of the mosquitoes, the sounds of planes overhead or the general noises of war; they are constant through the one-act one-man show. The set is simple but effectively so – two boxes covered in netting and a black drape cloth up back that also serves as a projector screen in which images and videos from the trail are intermittently played. The lighting, designed by Zac Eichner, gives insight into the depths of the jungle, the darkness of the times but also the brightness of the track. The production elements work swiftly and collaboratively to give a great mystique and authenticity to Maddern’s script.
The script itself is a credit to Maddern who has obviously spent a great deal of time researching the details of the track and ensuring authenticity is achieved. The play is one that should be seen by all Australians – particularly young Aussies who may not have even heard of the Kokoda track and the sacrifice these young boys made. I commend Maddern for taking on this challenging battle in just a one man show, allowing for the emotion of sacrifice to play to the forefront as we are not overwhelmed with numbers, but with detail of one man’s journey. This is clever writing that utilizes slang and jargon appropriately to create the world of a young, ill-equipped man sent to war in the 1940s.
Unfortunately, in a well executed production, the solo actor, Jayden Marshall, lets the show down. He is difficult to understand and offers little variety in his performance – there is no building intensity or moments of strength and weakness and as such, the performance feels monotonal. Whilst his youth served the production well, more experience is required from the young actor prior to taking on a one-man performance – the solo play is a hard art form to master and as an audience, we can see him treading in the deep end throughout.
As an overall production, Kokoda is very impressive, the script is strong and the show makes great use of the small theatre it is in, and I urge more people to take the opportunity to see this important piece of history come to life.
All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.