The Long Way Home

James Whitney in "The Long Way Home"

James Whitney in Sydney Theatre Company and the Australian Defence Force’s
“The Long Way Home”
© Lisa Tomasetti

When I think of a soldier taking “The Long Way Home” I think of the lyrics of that old Scottish song “O ye’ll tak’ the high road, and Ah’ll tak’ the low And Ah’ll be in Scotlan’ afore ye”.

By tradition it’s sung by a Scot wounded on an English battle field to his mate. He’s going to die and the fairies will take him through their land along the low road back to Scotland while his friend will walk.

The same is true in modern war. Those that die find their way home long before those that live.

One of the things we have come to realise in modern warfare is that coming home often does not stop for the soldier when he walks off the plane from the battlefield.

So the play “The Long Way Home”, produced by the Sydney Theatre Company and sponsored by the Chief of the Defence Force General David Hurley, explores both the reasons and the problems of Australian soldiers as they come back both physically and mentally from the battlefields of Afghanistan.

The play was written by Daniel Keene after a many week workshop with returned soldiers who now fill almost all the roles in the production. The soldiers do an excellent job, it’s impossible to tell these amateurs from the professionals.

It’s hard to write critically about this piece of theatre since a weakness in a performance, a badly delivered line or bad stage movement, are both forgivable and almost unseen through the strength of the connection between audience, the performers and the work.

A simple set and simple costumes are enhanced by some vivid video and lighting changes. The production is well designed and well directed.

Almost from the first “The Long Way Home” deliberately grabs the audience and plays with it’s emotions, moving us through fear, sympathy, understanding and sometimes even love. The playwright and the performers have not shrunk from the task of making the audience understand all the dark times and feelings these men and women go through as they come back.

The scenes are short and many, mostly we focus on two soldiers back from Afghanistan, played by servicemen Tim Loch and Craig Hancock, and their relationship to the world and their women. There are also scenes from Afghanistan as well as other returned soldiers. For the literary classicists we have a comatose soldier who whispers lines of poetry – it wasn’t until the second time that I realised they were from Homer’s Odyssey – the classics original “Long Way Home”.

There were moments in this play where it was difficult for me to see the stage through the tears. When a wife walks up to her returned husband standing in a dark backyard in the depth of night and asks “how were you going to do it?” it starts a short dialog that wrenched me apart – as a sufferer of chronic and major depression I knew too well the man’s thoughts.

I spent several years training in Psychodrama and studying the role theory of Jacob Moreno. At the end of the play I wondered how cathartic and therapeutic both performing in and watching this play is to returned soldiers. I suspect it has major benefits to both.

Plaudits to the STC, the defence force, the director, the playwright but most of all the men and women of the Australian Army who went through these experiences and then placed them on this stage. This is a production not to be missed if you get a chance to see it as it tours Australia. My apologies to the theatre company and cast that it has taken me so long to publish this review.

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