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Review: Kokoda


New play Kokoda is a monologue featuring Adelaide actor Todd Gray as a private who served with the 39th Battalion on the Kokoda Track to keep the Japanese from advancing to Port Moresby.

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The stage at Star Theatres is bare other than a small black rostra block that is moved around to help signify different locations.  Zac Eichner’s lighting effects help suggest the jungle setting, gunfire and battles.

The story of Kokoda is worth being retold and investigated, but it is a difficult one to tell as a monologue because it is about mateship, and although Private Morris Powell talks about his mates such as Dusty, Monster and Robinson, we don’t really picture them or know them.

Nonetheless, this new production by playwright and director Peter Maddern – timed to coincide with the 75th anniversary of the Japanese invasion of New Guinea – does offer some insight into the genuine fears of a young soldier facing the enemy and death for the first time.

Dressed in clean khaki and holding a long-neck beer, Private Powell talks about how he and his mates felt pressured to sign up. There are no delusions about the glory of war, but living conditions on the Kokoda Track are still a surprise. The clean, dry image of Powell seems to contradict the appalling damp of the jungle, especially when the AIF arrive and he refers to them as “gods” in their clean uniforms.

The script conveys information about the advance of the Japanese and the soldier’s attitudes to General Douglas MacArthur and Brigadier General Thomas Blamey, both of whom cop a bit of flak.

Gray’s delivery is rapid-fire and he projects considerable power and strength in the role, but the performance needs more vocal variety, especially when the text requires great emotional depth.

Kokoda gives its audience a sense of what the young soldier experienced. For it to be totally successful, however, we need a little less information and more moments that allow us to feel as though we have shared an evening with a real person experiencing the extraordinary.

Kokoda is playing at Star Theatres, Sir Donald Bradman Drive, until August 5.

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