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BWW Review: KOKODA at Star Theatres


BWW Review: KOKODA at Star Theatres Reviewed by Barry Lenny, Saturday 22nd July 2017.

Written and directed by Peter Maddern, Kokoda is a powerful tale told by a young man who was sent in a rag tag collection of recruits to stop the Japanese armed forces from reaching Australia by way of Papua and New Guinea. Private Powell is what was known as a larrikin and an ocker, Australian slang terms, the first meaning a lout, often a member of a gang, with little respect for authority, the latter referring to the strong Australian accent of an uncultured person.

Todd Gray plays Private Morris Powell, a lad recruited from the streets in Melbourne and one of a poorly trained group referred to as 'chocos', the chocolate soldiers, who were expected to melt if they ever had to face the enemy. They were sent to New Guinea to hold it against the Japanese army, to prevent them using it as a base to attack Darwin, in Australia's Northern Territory. He and his friends from the Zorro gang, all conscripted into the same battalion, are out of their depth but, until they encounter the enemy, they still joke in spite of the conditions.

In July 1942 the Japanese South Seas Detachment, under Major General Tomitaro Horii, landed on the northern coast of Papua, intending to travel down the Kokoda Track, or Kokoda Trail, as it is also known, and take Port Moresby in New Guinea. Greatly outnumbered by this highly trained force, the Australians were forced to retreat, but eventually managed to stop the invasion.

In so doing, 625 were killed and more than 1,600 were wounded. The greatest casualties, though, over 4,000, were due to malaria and dysentery. The conditions along the heavily overgrown, narrow jungle track were horrific, with rain, mud, and mosquitoes to contend with, as well as having to cross the Owen Stanley mountain range. Passage was only possible on foot, leading pack horses and mules, and relief forces could not get to them.

As the story moves ahead and the fighting increases, the elements get to them, and the deaths mount, Maddern's evocative script and Gray's marvellous interpretation of it bring out the full horrors of the Kokoda conflict. Gray embodies the young Australian, talking about his friends, criticising the Australian and American Generals Blamey and Macarthur, taking cover to return fire during attacks, reacting to the loss of comrades, and bemoaning the conditions to be endured on a daily basis.

The pairing of Maddern's well-researched and revealing writing, and his acute direction, with Gray's superb acting, is an unbeatable combination, but there is even more to this production.

The sound, by Josh Williams, and lighting, by Zac Eichner, in the intimate space of the Chapel, pulls the audience into the action. We are there with Private Powell and his mates, suffering with them, living through the conflicts and the deprivations.

Kokoda was a highly significant part of the Second World War for Australia, and the alternative outcome could have been disastrous. This is an important piece of theatre and should be on your list of things to do before it closes on 5th August. The Chapel is a small venue, so hurry to book.

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From This Author Barry Lenny