By Ross Lonnie
Directed by Soseh Yekanians
Performed by Quintin George and Ben Hall
The Blue Room Theatre
Until May 10
Coming soon after the powerful, theatrically innovative The Long Way Home, Ross Lonnie’s Uncle Jack (directed by Soseh Yekanians at the Blue Room) continues the heightened interest in soldiers, and soldiering, we can expect through WWI centenary observances over the next five years.
Lonnie’s work is much more traditional, but contemplates the same brutal equation: If men are changed by war – and how could they not be – then how can we expect them to return unchanged, as if nothing had happened?
War has made Jack (Quintin George) a loner. Clearing an isolated bush block, estranged from his wife – she’s taken the kids with her to Busselton for what sounds like more than just a holiday – uncorking his memories from the bottle to which he resorts too hard and too often, he’s caught between an overwhelming past and a doubtful future.
Enter young Dougie McNab (Ben Hall), a pliable, sweet-natured western suburbs boy sent to work on Jack’s acreage while he waits for his leaving results. His father, Robert, is a decorated war hero and now (it’s 1962) president of the state RSL. Jack was the elder McNab’s batman in the war, and is like an uncle to the boy.
On one level, the play – which is all-but-completely autobiographical – is about growing up and away from your parents. With due respect to Lonnie, who does have something of a story to tell, this aspect of the piece borders on vanity publishing. Much more interesting are Jack’s battles with his demons, his loyalty to his former commander and his mates, and the rough love he shows the boy under his wing.
George has the look and sound of a returned digger and battler down to a T, even if you sometimes wonder whether nostalgia and anachronism have become muddied in his character, which seems more 1920s than ’60s at times. Hall, who also plays his father in excerpts from his war journal, is equally convincing as the private schoolboy on the cusp of manhood.
Yekanians’ creative team, set designer Patrick James Howe, sound designer Carley Gagliardi and lighting designer Tegan Evans, deliver effective and affecting imagery to the production throughout.
Uncle Jack has limitations, but it’s a worthwhile addition to our understanding of Australians at war, and its personal consequences.
This review appeared in The West Australian 29.4.14