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'Shellshock' Theatre Review

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by Erica Enriquez (subscribe)
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War, peace and the connections we have to the past
The ANZAC legend will never lose its power. Whilst Australia and New Zealand suffered great losses in Gallipoli, Australians will remember the Gallipoli campaign as a time when the nation came into its own. Despite anyone's personal thoughts regarding war and battle, it's clear that the ANZAC battle is about more than what happened on the battlefield. It's about what became of the men who made it home, and the effects this had on their families and communities.

It's this idea of a story that goes back 100 years that is at the heart of Shellshock, a new play by playwright Justin Fleming, directed by Wayne Harrison and commissioned by Riverside Theatres as part of the Australian Government's Anzac Centenary and Local Grants Program. It also features some thought-provoking puppetry from Sue Wallace, animatronics by Hannah Crosby and original music from Joseph Tawadros.

Starring Ben Jack Anthony, Jack Finsterer, Sandy Gore, Yalin Ozucelik and Francesca Savige, Shellshock is more than just a Gallipoli story. Teenager Tom Lindsay's (Ben Jack Anthony) pet tortoise Herman is the oldest living survivor of the Gallipoli campaign, having been brought back to Australia from Turkey in 1915 by his great grandfather, Matthew. Because of this, Herman becomes a symbol of international interest, particularly for Adile Goymen (Francesca Savige), who has travelled all the way from Turkey to bring Herman back to what she believes in his rightful home in her country. What follows is the chance for the Lindsay family to finally learn the circumstances in which Herman was brought to Australia.

Shellshock, ANZAC, Riverside Theatre, Parramatta, centenary
Jack Finsterer and Francesca Savige

It's an interesting premise to start from for an Anzac story, but one that is definitely very interesting and entertaining. This was based on a true story about a soldier in Gallipoli who did indeed bring home a baby tortoise, who is still alive today. It's also interesting because the play itself is not entirely (not even 50%) based on the bloody battlefields of Gallipoli, but in fact occurs in the present day. The other notable characteristic of this play is that, for a story that is truly Australian, its narrator is Kazan (Yalin Ozucelik), a Turk who wants "his day in the sun", because he believes the audience needs to know the real story behind Herman's move from Turkey to the Lindsay's very Australian setting on a farm.

The story doesn't also just revolve around the historical aspects of the Gallipoli campaign, something we may all be familiar with. There's also a few touching moments between grieving widower Jack Lindsay (Jack Finsterer) and Adile, proving that we can connect with each other on a very human, personal level, even if, once upon a time, very long ago, our two countries were at war.

Shellshock, ANZAC, Riverside Theatre, Parramatta, centenary
Sandy Gore, Ben Jack Anthony, Jack Finsterer and Francesca Savige

Herman the tortoise becomes therefore more than just a remarkable animal that had survived a war to live to 100 years old, but a symbol of hope and a connection to the past that both the Turks and the Australians in the play cling to.

There are so many elements in the play that will touch you, even if you (like me) don't have a direct personal connection to anyone who fought in Gallipoli. In one scene, Tom dons his great grandfather's old uniform and transforms into a boy soldier, and it's an image that, despite the often times weighty subject matter throughout the play, proved to be the one image that remained with me once I left the theatre.

Shellshock is a remarkable story about hope, family and the way we remember those that went before us. It was clearly a labour of love for all those involved, and will be a moving experience for those in the audience.

Shellshock, ANZAC, Riverside Theatre, Parramatta, centenary
Ben Jack Anthony and Yalin Ozucelik

All images courtesy of Heidrun Lohr.

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Why? A moving experience to commemorate the centenary of Anzac Day
When: Now until 8th August, 2015
Phone: (02) 8839 3399
Where: Riverside Theatre, Parramatta
Cost: Adult $49 / Conc $44 / 30 and Under $35 / School Students $23
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