Left – Grant Cartwright, James Bell, Stuart Halusz. Cover – Grant Cartwright, James Bell, Stuart Halusz, Julia Blake. Photos – Gary-Marsh
It is 2007, the guests gathering for the anniversary of her husband's death have just left, and June, an older woman with an acerbic wit, debriefs the proceedings of the evening with her daughter Jane. As the conversation moves towards the subject of June's ailing memory, deeper issues arise, and an emotional Jane brings up the topic of her brother, 21 year old Tony Stewart's, death.
Stewart was a member of the Balibo Five – a group of Australian-based journalists killed in the conflicts between East Timor and Indonesia in 1975; an event that has been obscured by protracted judicial enquiries, conflicting information and a welter of inadequately answered questions. Director Aidan Fennessy's intimate attachment to the subject – his cousin was one of the five men killed in Balibo – has, no doubt, contributed to the effectiveness with which National Interest conveys the real pain of loved ones left behind. The minimalistic set and limited special effects work in the play's favour as additional elements may have confused what was already a complex narrative in as much as it shifted, frequently, between the past and the present. Particularly effective was the juxtaposition of the bureaucratic language of the inquest and the flashbacks of informal "Aussie" dialogue between three of the young men killed. The two often overlapped, functioning as a potent reminder of the chasm that exists between the real, lived story, and that which plays out on a national stage.
The play is demarcated by the words Truth, Fact and Conjecture, which are projected on the set at various stages of the play, and the poignancy here lies in the fact that the implied restorative process consists of navigating a way through all three – lines blurred as they always are in real life. Although it took a while for the play to find its feet, it was well worth the wait. Anchored by solid performances – Julia Blake was particularly good – National Interest is a must-see for those who remember this dark chapter in Australian history, and for others, like myself, for whom this piece was a sobering introduction to the tale.
Black Swan State Theatre Company presents
by Aidan Fennessy
Director Aidan Fennessy
Venue: Heath Ledger Theatre, State Theatre Centre of WA
Dates: May 5 – 20, 2012
Duration: Approx. 90 mins (no interval)
A co-production with Melbourne Theatre Company
And in Melbourne:
Venue Arts Centre Melbourne, Fairfax Studio
Season Dates 6 June to 21 July 2012
Opening Night Monday 11 June 2012 at 8pm
Tickets from $56 (Under 30s just $33)
Booking Details The MTC Theatre Box Office 03 8688 0800 or mtc.com.au;
Arts Centre Melbourne 1300 182 183 or artscentremelbourne.com.au