Stories from Australia’s most significant battle of the Vietnam War will be told in the world premiere staging of Long Tan – an aural and sensory theatre experience at the Space Theatre until 8 April 2017.
Adelaide’s acclaimed Brink Productions (Aspirations of Daise Morrow, When the Rain Stops Falling) will create this theatrical event from a semi-verbatim text by award-winning playwright Verity Laughton.
Composed from interviews with the surviving Australian soldiers, Vietnamese contributors and family and friends of those who died, Long Tan isn’t simply a work about a contentious time and iconic battle. Rather, it’s a meditation on the fractures in collective memory, the consequences of extreme demands on human beings in military conflict, and the need for forgiveness, empathy and faith in our common humanity.
“In telling the story of D Company, 6RAR, and the battle of Long Tan on August 18th 1966, it’s not my purpose either to rake over old controversies or to tell a tale of battle and glory,” said Verity Laughton. “My piece is about the psychology of this event, and its aftermath. The Vietnam War still polarizes people. But what some people even now find it hard to acknowledge is that the Australian soldiers by and large fought honourably in what became a controversial war.”
“The soldiers we meet in this play were inside an event, the ferocity of which most of us will never come close to experiencing. Some of them have been living with the impact of it, and the social responses to it, for the rest of their days. Others paid with their lives. This play is an attempt at understanding – complexities, contradictions, warts and all – these long years after.”
The theatre production depicts The Battle of Long Tan – one of the most historic battles of the Vietnam War which took place on a hot, rain-sodden afternoon in 1966. In the glutinous mud of a rubber plantation in Phuoc Tuy Province, South Vietnam, 105 Australian and three New Zealand soldiers clashed with approximately 2,500 Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Army troops. In the ensuing battle, 18 Australians died (17 were killed in action and one died of wounds 9 days later) and more than 245 communist Vietnamese.
Directed by Chris Drummond, Long Tan brings together a cast of twelve South Australian actors in an immersive audio-theatre production that will parachute audiences into the soldier’s experience – gunfire, mortar fire, pounding rain, insect clouds, screams and sudden silence – all orchestrated with sonic intensity to capture the pandemonium and entrapment under fire.
“It’s a huge responsibility, bringing this work to the stage,” said Chris Drummond. “The battle of Long Tan was a conflagration of unimaginable intensity. Its impact was devastating and far reaching. Our challenge theatrically has been to find a way of presenting that experience authentically.”
“We want to make a work of great empathy. The legacy of war is catastrophic yet inside it there are amazing insights to be found and innumerable examples of human warmth, dignity and compassion. There are lessons to be learnt and honoured in this story. I think the audience will find it genuinely overwhelming and moving.”
Long Tan is an event in two interrelated parts; the play and an audio-visual exhibition to be showcased in the Space Theatre foyer during the play’s performance season. Ripples of Wartime is an audio-visual exhibition by Malcolm McKinnon, especially commissioned by Brink to complement the stage production.
The exhibition presents the personal stories and perspectives from military veterans, post-war Vietnamese refugees, antiwar campaigners, family members of conscripted veterans and medical practitioners who served in Vietnam. Ripples of Wartime will be open for viewing from 31 March to April 8 before and after every performance of Long Tan.
“The Vietnam War excited and divided public opinion,” said Malcolm McKinnon. “Television news brought the drama – and some of the horror – of the war to Australian living rooms. The conscription of young men prompted passionate protest and the political motivations for the war were also contentious. I think the Vietnam War era still has great relevance today, so I hope these stories are instructive and illuminating.”
Director: Chris Drummond Featuring: David Andri, Stuart Fong, Patrick Graham, Matthew Gregan, Antoine Jelk, Patrick Klavins, Nic Krieg, Guy O’Grady, Chris Pitman, Mémé Thorne, Elijah Valadian-Wilson, Taylor Wiese Composer & Sound Designer: Luke Smiles Designer: Wendy Todd Lighting Designer: Chris Petridis AV Exhibition: Malcolm McKinnon
Space Theatre – Adelaide Festival Centre, King William Road, Adelaide
Season: 4 – 8 April 2017 (previews: 31 March – 3 April)
Image: courtesy of Brink Productions and State Theatre Company of South Australia