The 1980s - War and Peace

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Oh What a Lovely War, Mate was a popular success in 1980. The script by Joan Littlewood with additional Australian material by Nick Enright uses a pastiche of First World War songs, music, dance, comedy skits and political spin juxtaposed with a visual montage of newspaper reports, casualty lists, recruiting posters and battlefield photographs to expose the hoopla that concealed the grim realities of the conflict. A troupe of music hall entertainers entice young men to embark on an adventure with appeals to patriotism and promises of exotic lands, sex on tap and “the King’s shilling” but no mention of them becoming cannon fodder.

Directed by Frank Barnes, lit by Michael John Schell, with musical direction by Tom Bridges and Maurie Mulheron, its cast included Beth Child. Alison Strahan played flute and Terry Chilcott saxophone.

Bill Morrison’s Flying Blind was an Australian premiere in 1982. Set in contemporary Belfast, it was a plea for peace and a condemnation of the lunatic polarising of political thought in Northern Ireland. Directed by John Tasker and designed by John Pryce Jones, it was reviewed as reaching “sublime heights of lunatic terror and comic climax”.

Peter Nichols’ experiences in the British Army Entertainment Company touring Malaya in 1948 inspired his musical Privates on Parade mounted in 1986 and revived in 2014. The earlier cast included John Grinston, Brett Heath and George Hoad.

In Ron Raygun in the Antipodes a musical play by Stafford Sanders and Tom Bridges, President Raygun comes to Australia to safeguard USA’s interests after the sacking of a Labor government. Targets include Pine Gap, Three Mile Island, Northwest Cape, Omega, Esso, Utah, Pan-Continental, F111, Watergate and Agent Orange, Australian conservative politicians, and Murdoch (Mudrock) cutting his ties with Australia to concentrate on London and New York operations. Directed by Fay Mokotow, the 1983 production was designed by Tom Bannerman with cartoons by Patrick Cook and Jenny Coopes.

President Ron Raygun costumed hero, and deputy George Gosh Superspook.

Ron: Wherever there is suffering, wherever there is war

George: Wherever people are oppressed, wherever they are poor

Ron: Wherever folks are underfoot, and they can’t make it through

Both: Don’t call on us with your low grade fuss

'Cause we’ve got better things to do.

Ron: We’re Ron Raygun

George: And Superspook

Both: And the riff-raff we deplore

But we’ll fight for the right of American millionaires

To make a whole lot more.

John Morrell’s Waiting for the Parade is set during the Second Word War in Calgary, Canada, where five women cope with the pressures of the war. Also set in the Second World War, C P Taylor’s And a Nightingale Sang is a “compassionate and moving portrait of ordinary people set against … extraordinary happenings”. In Newcastle upon Tyne a woman’s journey from witnessing destruction to hope for the future parallels Thatcher’s Britain committed to belligerence in foreign affairs and social anarchy at home.

Sink the Belgrano by Steven Berkoff, an angry play about “a pack of fakes” whose sinking of the ship led to Britons and Argentinians needlessly losing their lives in the Falklands War, was reviewed in Colin Kenny’s 1989 production as “gutsy, powerful boots-and-all theatre”. In the tradition of saving money for NT, the wool carpet of “Maggot Scratcher” was sold at the end of the run.

C P Taylor’s Good set in 1930s Germany, its theme moral compromise and intellectual betrayal, was rendered “with abundant clarity and passion” in its 1988 production directed by Ros Horin.

Fear of nuclear war was raised in At Last! The 1984 Show in which the US President reassures the public:

I just want to reiterate clearly and categorically that the purpose of our nuclear weapons stockpile is purely as a deterrent to the Soviet Union. We’ve spent billions of dollars building these weapons – but we have no intention of ever using them. We only have them to deter the Soviets – to let them know we have them and that we’re prepared to use them. But you can be sure we have no intention of using them – unless we do use them. I hope that clears things up.

AusStage cast and crew, At Last! The 1984 Show

An actual nuclear accident inspired Sarcophagus by Vladimir Gubareyev, as Pravda’s science editor the first journalist to cover the explosion at number 4 reactor at Chernobyl in 1986. Gubareyev filed reports to the paper from the site and talked to survivors. In the play he stresses the appalling dangers inherent in the way this energy source is handled by those responsible for it, nuclear fuels being used for years with no realistic safeguards or solutions for the disposal of radioactive waste. The play is set in a Moscow isolation clinic receiving victims from Chernobyl. Gregan McMahon played a patient in the 1989 NT production.

Anna Petrovna (a physician and research scientist) and Vera (a newly qualified doctor) emerge from cubicle 3 where the director of the Power Station has been isolated. Vera is crying.

Anna: Don’t, my dear. Tears won’t help any more.

Vera: Please, Anna Petrovna, could I go in and be with him for just a little longer? Take another look at him? His face was so peaceful …

Anna: Too late now. No one will see his face again. A lead coffin and a concrete sarcophagus. It has to be like that because his body is emitting two or three roentgens an hour. And it will go on doing so for several decades. I’m afraid you can’t go in there again.

The light in cubicle 8 starts to blink.

Quickly! And wipe away your tears. You must always go into a cubicle with a smile. They’re waiting for your smile. Come on, girl.

Lights are blinking in cubicles no. 8, no. 6 and no. 4. The glowing of burning graphite shines brightly on the cyclorama.

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