Women in khaki. Long, hot, hours tending to the sick and wounded in a desert hospital, with scant resources. Calls home where you can’t speak to your children. The challenges of enlistment in the early 20th century in a Victorian country town. Boat journeys as escape from theatres of war. Ex-militia secreting themselves in refugee camps. Rugged enough for you?
Such are the tales Carolyn Bock and Helen Hopkins bring to life in Hallowed Ground: Women Doctors At War. They place Australian women’s medical service centre stage.
As part of La Mama’s 2016 Explorations season, which gives in-development support for new works, and supported with an ANZAC Arts and Culture Fund grant, this centring of women’s work in military history is cause for national pride. These are important stories — and different from official rhetoric.
A range of first-person stories is recounted by a strong cast on a bare set which cleverly intersects tales across ages. Set design makes use of projections, sub-titles, sound effects, mood lighting, and fantastic uniform costumes to enhance the drama in the stories. The determination of such women to work in war is inspiring, and we hear of the obstacles in their path, both at home and abroad.
It is the words of these women which creates the drama, drawn from source material of letters home, personal diaries, national archives, and recollections. These characters originate from a range of eras: early 20th century, 1990s, WWI and II, 1970s, and the 2000s. The women come from all locations across Australia and we follow their careers to places as far flung as Rwanda, Vietnam, London, and Iraq. They speak across the stage to each other, sharing an intimacy that only women-in-service can know.
The cast’s use of accent, characterisation, pathos and candour bring each woman’s tales to life animatedly. In their camouflage pants, woollen jackets, and heavy boots, we see the intense training and military readiness required of these remarkable women. The characters become personal — as if they were our schoolmates or friends.
The moving tales of our local girls and their international efforts is stirring material. There were women doctors at war who fought for human lives, not national territories, and we claim these as our own brave heroines.
This play vividly restores to public attention their effort. This was a small showing to test the play, hopefully leading to a full season in 2017. Keep your eyes out it as it’s captivating to hear of our sunburnt fighting sisters.
Sarah W. is a dance-trained theatre lover with a flair for the bold, and non-traditional performance platforms. On the street or in the box seat, she is always looking for quality works that push the envelope.
Hallowed Ground: Women Doctors At War ran 10-12 December 2016 at La Mama Theatre (60 mins).
The venue is wheelchair accessible; call to arrange.