K.I.J.E. is a multilayered exploration of the us vs. them mentality. In an unnamed place, fighting an unnamed war against an enemy only known as ‘Them’, four soldiers – Konrad, Irving, Jono and Ed – unite against their tyrannical superior Messner and create a fictional super soldier called ‘Kije’. Loosely based on Yury Tyvanov’s 1927 novella Lieutenant Kije and Profokiev’s five part suite of the same name, K.I.J.E. is the first full-length work of playwright Joanna Erskine and is an insightful exploration of the collective self.
While Kije is initially invented by the four soldiers to get themselves out of trouble, he rapidly becomes a manifestation of their identity not as individuals, but as a group. The dramas that they construct for Kije end up reflecting the struggles that they go through as a unit – as ‘us’, fighting ‘them’. He represents everything they want to be as soldiers – strong, unafraid, invincible – as well as representing their desires for a life outside war.
This is a viscerally affecting play – a play that you feel, rather than a play you remember lines from later. Joanna Erskine’s work is cleverly underwritten, not allowing flowery speeches to get in the way of the plot and the characters. Initially, this meant that it was often difficult to distinguish the different identities and personalities of the four soldiers, particularly as the idea of Kije – who is, in a sense, all four of them – was so central. However, once the character of the Girl was introduced, their differing reactions to her and the splintering of their group identity allowed the individual performances of the actors to shine through. The lack of distractions on the whitewashed, bare stage meant that this piece was almost entirely actor-driven and, as an ensemble, the cast performed admirably. Fayssal Bazzi was excellent (albeit extremely disturbing) as Konrad, while TJ Power was another standout as Irving.
The design of K.I.J.E. gave me vivid flashbacks to Year 12 drama – I don’t know whether this is common to all high school drama, but when I was in Year 12, my class was obsessed with red lights, smoke machines, and having actors stand in straight lines. Happily, unlike when I was in Year 12, these techniques were used meaningfully and sparingly under Sarah Giles’s deft direction and Verity Hampson’s lighting design. I was not, however, a fan of the strobe light at the scene change, another favourite of my HSC drama class. The use of the strobe at every scene change for no apparent reason was very distracting. When it comes to strobe lights (and smoke machines!) less is nearly always more.
K.I.J.E. is not exactly a light night out at the theatre: plays involving war rarely are. However, this play deals adeptly with issues of the direct effects of war, group psychology/osis, and the atrocities committed in the name of something that those directly involved may not understand (or even dare to name). It is clever, affecting, sometimes humorous and ultimately heartbreaking. K.I.J.E. is well-written, well-directed, well-acted and well worth seeing.
Tamarama Rock SurfersK.I.J.E
by Joanna Erskine
Directed by Sarah Giles
Venue: The Old Fitzroy Theatre, 129 Dowling Street, Woolloomooloo
Dates: July 12 – 30, 2011
Times: Tuesday – Saturday 8pm, Sunday 5pm
Tickets: Preview/Cheap Tuesday: $21 General Admission, $29 Beer, Laksa and Show Other Performances: $25 Concession, $33 Adult, $40 Beer, Laksa and Show