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BWW Reviews: Sandra Eldridge Brings Old and New Worlds Together to Understand the Great War And the Importance Of THE UNKNOWN SOLDIER.

Saturday 16 May, 2015, Lend Lease Darling Quarter Theatre

Set in the modern day, THE UNKNOWN SOLDIER explores the human side of war as fragments of history are pieced together in a deeply moving play. Whilst the nation commemorates the Centenary of the Gallipoli landings, Sandra Eldridge (Writer/Actor) explores the Battle of the Somme and the Battle of Fromelles in this carefully researched work that exposes the love for family back home, the sense of duty, courage and self-sacrifice that is still relevant one hundred years later.

Set on a divided stage, 13 year old computer war game obsessed Charlie (Felix Johnson) and his pacifist Vegan café owner Aunt Angela (Sandra Eldridge), struggling to occupy their time decide to open the suitcase Angela purchased, contents unknown. Whilst Charlie is somewhat resentful for being sent to stay with the tea loving "hippie" Aunt whilst his mother deals with his father, recently returned from Afghanistan with PTSD, the exploration of the suitcase which unearths random bits of "broken old stuff", dominos and a box of letters brings Charlie and Angela together and provides a distraction from the computer games his mother and Angela want to limit.

In reading the letters, Charlie takes on Albert's voice, slipping into the world of the letters with a slouch hat as he occupies the other side of the stage, made up of fragments of letters. Similarly, Aunt Angela reads the article, a letter from a volunteer nurse Grace to the Mothers that was amongst the letters. As the stories unfold, both want to learn more and gain a better understanding of why people still fought despite seeing the destruction, and the need to commemorate the sacrifice, challenging their own viewpoints on war.

Eldridge has created a work that blends humor as Charlie tries to find something to do and avoid his Aunt's vegan cooking and sensitivity to the material as they follow Albert's letters into battle. With a personal connection to the war through her Great Grandfather, Eldridge's research of the War Memorials, archives and consulting with returned Veterans has allowed her to create a deeply emotional work with a lot of insight as to why people went to war, continued to fight, and still go to war as she contemplated what the younger generations think of the war memorials and commemorations. Within the exploration of the century old battles, she also weaves a commentary of the modern effects of war and the continuing impression that "they don't train soldiers to come home", as more return changed by their experiences.

Eldridge's performance captures the confident Aunt helping out her sister and trying to entertain her nephew. The growth of the character is handled well as whilst Aunt Angela first dismisses the newspaper clipping as being of no significant use apart from the biscuit recipe on the back, to understanding the importance of the letter from the nurse on the front to the mothers back home and wanting to learn more about the conflicts.

Johnson creates an easily recognizable character with the teenage Charlie, back chatting, escaping to computer games and not really being interested in anything his Aunt offers as a distraction. He matures as he considers Albert's letters and chooses to use the wifi connection to search for Albert rather than downloading games, both joining together to unearth the stories of the artifacts and come to terms with why people, like Charlie's father, still go to war despite knowing the possible outcomes.

Matt Cox's lighting design draws focus between the current day and when Albert and Grace's letters are read and David Stalley's sound design helps set the scene from Angela's bush house to the fields of war with artillery fire. Anna Gardiner's set allows the letters side of the set be transformed into the landscapes described in the letters with simplicity and shadows of silhouettes help set the locations.

THE UNKNOWN SOLDIER is a powerfully moving work that helps modern audiences make sense of war, old and new. To quote Eldridge's words, whilst "All wars are awful", understanding that soldiers "don't fight because they hate what is in front of them, they fight because he loves what is behind him" is a powerful message to understand why people still feel compelled to fight. This work, in keeping with Monkey Baa Theatre Company's aim to provide theatre that tells Australian stories that engage and opening minds, is an important piece for people of all ages; from school students through to adults as it develop an understanding of the past to help shape views for the future.

Photo: Heidrun Lohr
Photo: Heidrun Lohr
Photo: Heidrun Lohr
Photo: Heidrun Lohr


Lend Lease Darling Quarter Theatre

18 May - 22 May 2015

10:30am, 12:30pm, 3pm and 7pm

Wagga Wagga Civic Theatre

25 May 10am & 12:30pm

Griffith Regional Theatre

27 May 11am & 1pm

Bathurst Memorial Entertainment Centre

29 May 11am & 7pm

Capitol Theatre Tamworth

2 June 6pm
3 June 11am & 1pm

Manning Entertainment Centre, Taree

5 June 10am & 1pm

Joan Sutherland Performing Arts Centre, Penrith

10 June 7pm
11 June 10:30am & 1pm

Albury Entertianment Centre

15 June 6:30pm

Photos: Heidrun Lohr

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