The Long Way Home (Sydney Theatre Company)
February 27 – March 1
“The Long Way Home” is not your typical night at the theatre. The show is the result of Australian playwright Daniel Keene’s work with servicemen and women from the Australian Defence Force who have returned from conflict overseas with physical or psychological injuries and illnesses. And the result is a profound theatrical experience, as 13 service men and women feature alongside actors. These are not their personal accounts, but, as the program outlines, “they play themselves reimagined.” However, this makes their terrible injuries, post traumatic suffering and difficult recoveries no less powerful.
“The Long Way Home” is a show of human stories and, as such, it is not particularly political or preachy about the morality of war, despite its portrayal of the the reality of conflict in Afghanistan. The stories are told in a series of vignettes of camaraderie and determination: children playing war, privates swapping nightwatch jibes and returned soldiers trying to reconnect with their partners. But the common message is clear – war changes those who fight it.
Though there are some cumbersome comic bridging scenes that contradict the work’s gravity, Craig Hancock and Tim Loch, both Afghanistan veterans, give memorable performances as men unable to cope with the aftermath of war as they attempt to redefine their non-military identities. Their stories not only anchor the show, but provide audience members with greater understanding of the struggles of returned servicemen attempting to adjust to non-military life in a sea of depression and anxiety, for homecomings are never as easy or as simple as we might imagine. And the men and women on stage courageously share their vulnerabilities with a generosity that generates esteem.
Certainly, there is a lot of realism to this show, particularly in its little details, as, for example, returned soldiers reflect on things such as the impact of familiar smells upon return home. The language is confronting, but authentic. The verbatim straight-to-camera videos are effective in humanising the show and sharing its essential message – that regardless of the politics of whether you think they should be there or not, the bravery of those who fight in war is to be respected.
The show is also visually stunning, thanks to sophisticated lighting and impressive creative design. Boxy stage pieces shape the space and act as screens to the compelling video design elements. Indeed, it is a creative refinement that, in all elements, says Sydney Theatre Company.
“The Long Way Home” is an important piece of theatre that is both well-intentioned and well-imagined. As a refreshingly honest and personal portrayal of Australia’s War veterans finding their way back home, its ardent sense of authenticity is of such impact that a standing ovation does not go astray.