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Compiled and written by John Broughton from material in World War 1 soldiers’ diaries, the play tells two linked stories: those of Hohepa Teihoka, whose sense of duty and purpose becomes overlaid with horror and grief at the deaths of so many comrades; and Donald Stuart McNaughton, who came home at war’s end and gained an Otago University degree.
Earlier the audience, consisting largely of members of the Otago Officers Club, had been treated to piping and singing outside Marama Hall, dramatically lit for the occasion. The production, directed by Cindy Diver and Hilary Halba, is notable for its consistency and attention to detail. Acting performances by Taungaroa Emile (Hohepa), Matt Wilson (Donald), Mark Neilson, Luke Major and Kieran Kelly are splendid, and strong musical support is provided by Sophie Morris, Simon Anderson, Sam van Betuw, Erina Daniels, Waiariki Parata-Taiapa, Tumai Cassidy and Dugald Mackay.
Special mention must be made of 7-year-old Harrison Diver as himself, explaining his own connection to the play’s characters, and university chancellor Royden Somervllle, recreating a 1918 speech by Andrew Cameron, the chancellor during the war years. While the university itself is not central to the play, there are significant links. Marama Hall was originally built for the military training of medical students; the 1919 graduation ceremony was held in what is now Allen Hall Theatre; and 97 of the university’s 500 students whose studies were interrupted by overseas service, and 17 of its staff, lost their lives in the war. Lighting and projected images by Martyn Roberts made a huge contribution to atmosphere and visual interest. At just over an hour it was a short production, but its professionalism, focus and commemorative aspect ensured a big impact on Saturday night’s very appreciative audience.
• Allen Hall Theatre, Saturday, September 8