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BWW Reviews: THE LONG WAY HOME Looks at the Horrific Effects of War on the Participants


Reviewed Tuesday 1st April 2014

The State Theatre Company of South Australia, in association with Adelaide Festival Centre, is presenting the Sydney Theatre Company's and the Australian Defence Force's co-production of The Long Way Home, written by award winning writer, Daniel Keene, and directed by Stephen Rayne, an English director who came to Australia especially for this project.

This year is the centenary of The Great War, referred to at the time as the war to end all wars, but that soon became renamed as WWI, the First World War and, far from being the final war, it was followed by many more. Even the Second World War did not put an end to conflicts, with Korea and Vietnam both being long drawn out affairs still fresh in many minds. More recently we have seen conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan, and East Timor. Australian military personnel have been involved in all of those and the last three are the subject of this production.

Seventeen performers, male and female, some professional actors and some who served in those conflicts and are recovering from their experiences, offer the audience an insight into the effects of war on those individuals involved. Some were physically injured, some were psychologically damaged, and many were both. It is not just those individuals who suffer the after-effects, of course, but their doctors, counsellors, friends, and families also have to deal with the damage caused. That is what we see in this powerful and moving production.

These are all true stories, real experiences, and the idea came from General David Hurley, Chief of the Defence Force, who saw a British production along these lines, The Two Worlds of Charlie F. Stephen Rayne was the director of that production and, naturally, with his experience putting that one together, it was logical that he be brought to Australia to direct this production.

That does, of course, present challenges for a critic as this cannot be dealt with in the same way that one might approach a production of a well known or brand new play, where one has a set of guidelines and expectations to assess against. Had the performers all been professional actors, distancing the production from the original storytellers, it would have been more straightforward but, with the majority of the people on stage being the ones directly involved, telling their own stories and opening themselves bravely to the audience, it becomes a different matter.

There are funny moments, various degrees of comedy yet, behind these, one can always feel a darkness hovering, waiting to enclose those involved at any moment. It is the type of comedy that one uses to hide the pain, and these people have lots of pain to hide.

Certainly, there are very high professional standards in Renée Mulder's design, Damien Cooper's lighting, the music and sound design of Steve Francis, and the video projections from Mulder and David Bergman. The technical side of the show runs like clockwork, but it is the performances that leave one overwhelmed.

My paternal grandfather was in the Royal Navy in WWI and my father was in the Royal Air Force in WWII, but neither spoke of it. Many of the relatives on my mother's side were also in the armed forces in both world wars and, again, nothing was ever talked about. For these people to come out on stage to tell, in great detail, the extremely personal stories of both their time in action, and their time recovering since returning, is an exceptionally brave and generous thing for them to do.

As a production it is something that will leave the audience deeply moved and full of respect for what our armed forces go through during and after their terms of duty. Those who have served will relate to everything that is presented, and those who have not will be shocked by what governments subject their people to when they decide to go to war.

Will Bailey, David Cantley, James Duncan, Wayne Goodman, Craig Hancock, Martin Harper, Kyle Harris, Patrick Hayes, Emma Jackson, Odile Le Clezio, Tim Loch, Emma Palmer, Tahki Saul, Sarah Webster, James Whitney, Gary Wilson and Warwick Young are all to be congratulated on bringing this revealing work to the stage, and their superbly sensitive, emotional, and non-sensationalist presentation of the factual stories.

All secondary students should be seeing this production. They are taught history, and wars are such a big part of that, but so few of them really know what is involved in military conflicts and the cost in human lives lost or ruined. This wonderful production brings that home clearly and concisely in a way that cannot be ignored. This is highly recommended to everybody, not just regular theatregoers. This is living history, and it is not pretty or romanticised, but it is completely engaging and thought provoking. You will be talking about it for a long time.

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