Above: (from left) Tanya McCall, Francis Marrington, Libby Bancroft, Elizabeth Best and Hayley Fielding. Right: Hayley Fielding and Libby Bancroft.
Minefields and Miniskirts
By Siobhan McHugh
Adapted by Terrence O’Connell
Directed by Bronwyn Morrow
Brisbane Arts Theatre
Season: April 8-18. Running time: two hours including interval. Bookings (07) 3369 2344 www.artstheatre.com.au
This play surfaced in 1993 adapted from Siobhan McHugh’s book and radio series of interviews with women affected in different ways by the Vietnam War. The stories were distilled into five characters – those on the frontline, the volunteer, the journalist, the nurse and the entertainer and the wife who was left at home.
It is a play that divided opinion. Some enjoyed the show, some didn’t. “I want to be entertained not depressed,” was one repeated comment. “I did not come to be lectured,” was another.
I found to be moving and absorbing. It is a finely written play with interrelated monologues and iconic songs from the 1960s that looks deeply at the effects of war on women. It was set in Vietnam, but would just as well relate to WW1 and WW2, or Afghanistan or even the current conflicts in the Middle East.
I enjoyed and related to the characters, which were all well portrayed, and understood their plight. There was some powerful acting on view on opening night.
The women were not wimpy people who were complaining about their life in war; they were simply telling us what it was like and each had a compelling tale to tell.
There was Margaret, the wife of a Vietnam veteran (Tanya McCall); Eve (Francis Marrington) who was a civilian volunteer; Sandy (Hayley Fielding) who went over to entertain the troops; Kathy (Libby Bancroft), a qualified nurse, and young journalist, Ruth (Elizabeth Best).
The original play had just the five characters but director Bronwyn Morrow added a trio of men, Andrew Fraser and Jason Bentley, who played a variety of roles, and guitarist/singer Mathew Malone. She also added an ensemble of five women. I thought this was a great idea for it added depth to the play and a lot of much needed movement.
Tanya McCall’s Margaret was terrific. She, with Andrew Fraser playing her returned and mentally damaged soldier husband, brought home to horrors of post traumatic stress disorder that so many returned servicemen suffered. The others suffered the shock of the warzone, the blood, and injuries, the explosions and gun fire, but for them. like all things in time, war became normal.
Being a journalist myself and living in Australia through the 60s and 70s in newspapers and magazines I related so much with the crème de menthe swilling Ruth. She was tired of being relegated to the women’s page in the male dominated media of the time and wanted to do some “real reporting”. Vietnam was the place to go, she was told.
Kathy went to help our “our injured boys” and ended up treating friend and enemy alike while the gentle Eve was devastated by the loss of life and limbs and the plight of the Vietnamese orphans.
In total contrast was Sandy the singer/dancer who was flown from camp to camp, in safety and often comfort who thrived on the excitement and danger.
The stories were gripping, harrowing at times but the stoicism and bravery of the women shone through. At the end they left Saigon as the war was being lost and we knew they would never be the same again.
One criticism would be that the singing was not strong, Hayley Fielding was nervous when leading the songs, but strengthened up when the chorus joined in. But this did not detract from my enjoyment of the piece.
If you enjoy great writing, honesty, great stories, and strong characters you will enjoy this one, but if you want light-hearted entertainment forget it.