Minefields & Miniskirts
Brisbane Arts Theatre
April 8 – 29
By the mere nature of their subject matter, shows about war are more-often-than-not solemn affairs. From its initial ‘Sprit in the Sky’ musical opening, it is clear that this is not the case with “Minefields & Miniskirts”. The representation of real-life reminiscences of women in the Vietnam War, adapted from Siobhan McHugh’s original book, does include some poignant moments in talk of the shocking sights they have seen, but ultimately the feel is one of celebration of the stories from this important piece of Australian history.
Experiences have been shaped into interleaving, thematically-themed monologues from five different women from various walks of life (a correspondent, an entertainer, a nurse, a volunteer and a veteran’s abused wife), from the culture shock of arrival in a land they can barely find on map, to their sense of the Vietnamese experience as bystanders in the Western war.
Cultural references take audiences to a familiar place, from Nancy Sinatra hair to Carnation Milk and Crème De Menthe mentions, with many of the era’s archetypal songs punctuating the monologues. The almost-acoustic accompaniment from Matthew Malone serves the show well, but at times competes with the vocals. Indeed, while vocals are not strong, in this case this works as its adds to the folk-song feel of numbers like ‘Leaving on a Jet Plane’ and Carole King’s ‘Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?’
As a nurse bored working in a hospital at home and in want of some excitement, Libby Bancroft gives a charismatic performance. Tanya McCall, too, brings in-love vulnerability and later motherly determination to the role of the veteran’s wife, waiting for her husband to return from war and then dealing with the effects of his post-war trauma and lack of societal welcome or regard for his experience.
Ensemble performers, dressed in the camouflage-print miniskirts of the title don’t contribute a lot to the narrative and while they are key to the musical numbers, these are sometimes of such clichéd choreography that they slow the Act Two pace to a drag. As the work’s final aftermath and legacy chapters stretch out with repetitive monologues in tell of the chaos of returning home and the long-term effects of war, it seems the show could easily have ended a number of times over.
Still, overall, “Minefields & Miniskirts” is a compelling night of theatre thanks to the power of its truth. These are thought-provoking stories from real people, whose voices are so often silenced in the narratives of war. And with Anzac Day this week, it is wonderful to have such a timely reminder of the extent of war’s legacies, even when the war is a conflict.