The world premiere of “Gallipoli,” Nigel Jamieson’s stunning debut with the Sydney Theater Company, is a deserving centerpiece for artistic director Robyn Nevin’s flamboyant final season. Staged in the Sydney Theater, STC’s biggest house, “Gallipoli” is a visually-stunning, high art performance piece. It features poetry, video imagery, intricate lighting, a cast of 35 and a trap-door ridden stage. Jamieson even manages to imbue humor into his re-telling of Australia and New Zealand’s greatest war time disaster, the failed assault on Gallipoli, Turkey, during World War I in which 8,000 soldiers died.
A fantastic piece of theater that is really put together well, “Gallipoli” is nonetheless based on grim subject matter and is very centric to Oz and New Zealand with little international potential.
Oz and Kiwi troops, under the command of the British Army, arrived at Gallipoli in ships and immediately came under heavy artillery fire. They fought for months in trenches, with the casualties mounting and medical supplies and expertise in critically short supply.
Newspaper reports sent back to Australia, however, told of glowing victories, and the truth did not come out until after the war.
This work’s badly needed laugh relief comes by way of the choristers singing “Get a fuckin’ move on” with an angry lieutenant out front. Also, an interlude at the Cairo Follies features crazy dancing by Peter Carroll and Brandon Burke.
Written partly in rhyming verse, “Gallipoli” uses a filmic jump-cut style. Real-life storyline was constructed from the diaries, writings and recorded collections of many veterans of the campaign, including journalist Charles Bean, poet C.J. Dennis, newspaper publisher Keith Murdoch and Prime Minister Billy Hughes.
Although the piece portrays war with beauty and even grace, it does not gloss over the brutality of war and is patently anti-war. It ends with a quote from a recently deceased Gallipoli veteran.
STC opened its checkbook for this show, and Jamieson’s lush and evocative production proves him to be a deserving recipient. The pairing of STC actors and NIDA students for a production was first employed by Barrie Kosky’s STC epic, “The Lost Echo” in 2006.