Although we don’t often see verbatim theatre in arts festivals, it is a welcome inclusion. By using the words of real people, performers and creatives can reflect and embody true and unique experiences.

Written by Ashley Adelman and directed by Carly Fisher, Sydney-based company Theatre Travels’ In Their Footsteps centres around the lives of women serving in the US Army during the Vietnam War.  It places us deep in Saigon, 1967, prior to the Tet Offensive. On the Bakehouse Theatre stage we meet five bright-eyed, optimistic women who are seeking adventure and want to “see Vietnam”. It is an intriguing look at a war now coloured by hindsight.

Audience members witness the real stories of women who did essential work during the war, including Jeanne (portrayed by Sonya Kerr), a “Donut Dolly” providing counselling for soldiers; Judy (Nola Bartolo), a “morale and recreation” officer tasked with organising soldiers’ entertainment; Lily (Suzann James), a nurse working six days a week in the burns unit, and the humble army librarian Ann (Linda Nicholls-Gidley), who encouraged the men to “bring a book to bed instead (of a woman)”.

These stories are viewed through a feminist lens, as the characters struggle against the outmoded patriarchal power structures in the military, their grievances often falling on deaf ears. A moment where Lucki (Rowena Robinson), an intelligence officer in the Women’s Army Corps, tries to inform the top brass about the imminent Tet Offensive and is ignored, “either because (she) was black or (she) was a woman”, is a stark illustration of the disregard they faced.

There is a memorable simplicity in the staging and portrayals of the characters, which highlights the strength of the piece. The cast members bring a quiet confidence and authority to the text. As we follow in their footsteps, we share the reverence and respect for the women veterans who inspired this work.

Underlying this production is the demand for these forgotten women to be seen as equal to the men who also lost their lives in Vietnam. The coda reveals the fact that out of 11,000 American women who served, and the 67 who died, only eight names are inscribed on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in Washington DC.

While concluding with the recorded voices of the actual women on whom this show is based, the final words, “No War is Worth It”, have renewed and present meaning we cannot ignore.

In Their Footsteps is at the Bakehouse Theatre until March 12.

Gianluca Noble is the second recipient of the Helpmann Academy InReview Mentorship. He is working with experienced writers Murray Bramwell (theatre) and Jane Llewellyn (visual arts) to write a series of articles for publication in InReview.

Read more 2022 Adelaide Fringe stories and reviews here.

 

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This article is supported by the Judith Neilson Institute for Journalism and Ideas.