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The One Day of the Year at Riverside Theatres

Home > Sydney > ANZAC Day | Theatre
by Jody Kimber (subscribe)
Freelance writing. Out of the urban clutter of the East and now situated on the Pittwater.
Published March 27th 2015
Alan Seymours' Controversial Play at the Riverside Theatre
Courtesy of Hit Productions

"It's Anzac Day this week, that's my day, that's the old Diggers' day."

Alf works hard all year. He works at a job that was not what he would have chosen in his youth, but he does the job. He has his mates and he wants his son to have the education he never had the opportunity to have. But did this "education" divide father and son in a way that Alf never thought it could?

ANZAC day is Alf's day. It's a day that commemorates Australian history. Where we watch the Diggers march, learn the symbols of each regiment and see men, women and now their grandchildren and great grandchildren march - is it all for nothing? Does it glorify war? Is it a national booze up? Or is it something more or less than that?

Does ANZAC Day represent the dignity of our Diggers or does it leave them on their knees and in the gutter via one too many down the pub? Alan Seymour's landmark Australian play questions the value of what some call the myth of the ANZAC tradition.

"Sparking huge controversy on its release in the 1960s, the play's first ever production had a policeman stationed at the stage door to ward off the angry public. Death threats were issued to the author. The One Day of the Year looks at our national legend through the eyes of generation, class and character." (Source: Riverside Theatre website)

Is this astoundingly Australian play, written by Alan Seymour in the 1950's and first performed in 1961 just as relevant today?

When they tell the story of Wacka and how he had "actually been there" at Gallipoli and that there are no more World War 1 Diggers left, you realise that the next generation is moving forward.

And just as these men who endured so much have passed on, Alan Seymour, the playwright of 'One Day of the Year', passed away Monday night, just before this performance hit the stage. His nephew gave a brief speech at the end of the play and quoted Adam Lindsay Gordon Melbourne monument, which carries the verse: "Life is mainly froth and bubble. Two things stand like stone. Kindness in another's trouble. Courage in your own" and gave us a little bit of insight into the man who wrote this part of Australian history.

I found it quite a personal experience seeing aspects of my grandfather's generation. The play questioned the sentiments of a generation who had had to go to war, endured depression and miss the opportunities that youth brings with it now.

Photos by Kirsty Galloway McLean / Courtesy of Hit Productions

With Denis Moore directing, a very simple set and 5 superb performances. The One Day of the Year kept my attention fully. Peter Hardy as Alf and Christine Keogh as Dot both bought their characters from their lounge room set, into the theatre. Each had a presence of the people they were portraying.

Peter Hardy, as Alf, maintained that superb stoic persona with facial expressions that spoke volumes more about the character than dialogue ever could.

The simple set depicted a working family's life in the 1950s to the 1960s and beyond. There was an encyclopaedia, not Wikipedia or any Twitter chatter going on. The television was just a new thing back then.

Wacka is a Gallipoli veteran, who "put his age up to get into WW1 and his age down to get into WW 2." Don Bridges' character, Wacka, was just a quiet Australian who didn't seem to ask much of life, but gave what he could. He'd been to war with Alf's father, then to war with Alf. He just got on with it.

Photos by Kirsty Galloway McLean / Courtesy of Hit Productions

Alf didnt find it so simple. Alf felt he'd lost something in those War years, such as the education he could have had. Yet he, in his way had the greatest respect for those that had fought, marched, lived and died. He had fought and worked to let his child have what he didn't.

Enter, Jan (Olivia Solomons), an overthinking well bought up "North Shore" journalism student who thought she knew it all. Luke Clayson as Hughie, Alf's son, agreed with her.

They cant see what ANZAC day is about. How is it relevant to their generation?

This is where the conflict begins. It's where those don't know this part of history can feel beyond what is considered to be right and proper and fail to see what impact war had on these men and what this 'One Day of the Year' really represents for them.

Have you ever had to climb out of a trench on an unclimbable rock face to see your mate have their head blown off and still step forward? Still fight? One line in the play explains "it was because you couldn't stop and help your mate, that was the worst of it.'

These men had experienced something that many of us ever have to see in life. Who is to judge those who survive something and commemorate their mates as best they can?

This play is a must-see.
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*Jody Kimber was invited as a guest
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Why? Australian Theatre.
When: Tues 24th March - Sat 28th March
Where: Riverside Theatre, Parramatta
Cost: Tickets range from $20 up to 49
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