It was a play I wasn’t familiar with, but Colin assured me it was a very good play, a classic Australian play. Before the play, we discussed the reluctance of many theatre companies to do these classic Australian plays. As well as the issue of funding, I guess there’s a fear the audience will see them as old fashioned. But I really honestly think there’s a market for classic Australian drama that’s not being currently met.
For example, I really love “Summer Of The Seventeenth Doll”, I really love plays like “Christian Brothers” and “Hard God” and I really enjoyed seeing “Don’s Party” the other week. And although I hadn’t realised it, “No Names, No Pack Drill” has quite a similarly strong pedigree, with the likes of Mel Gibson and Nonee Hazlehurst featuring in early productions, and having been made into the movie “Rebel” which starred Matt Dillon.
As with many of these classic Australian dramas, “No Names, No Pack Drill” is a love story set during the Second World War, which seeks to understand how ordinary people can react to extraordinary situations. In this play, Bridie Carter, who is well known from McLeod’s Daughters, plays a young woman living alone in Kings Cross (her husband is fighting overseas) who ends up harbouring an American deserter, Rebel (played by Travis McMahon) in her flat. I thought they were both very good, with genuinely believable characters. Unfortunately, the secondary characters were nowhere near as good, with some of them clearly out of their depth or defaulting to character stereotypes.
Nonetheless, I really enjoyed the play for many reasons, mostly related to a sense of familiarity. My mum and dad would have been that age during the war and so I imagined them in a similar situation. And my aunty still had the same furniture and house decorations featured in the play well into the 1970s. There were also some very funny lines and it was “very Australian” in the style of language used. However, at the end of the night, the new director of NIDA reflected on how many of the younger cast members hadn’t understood some of the language used, and at first, the Australian accents seemed over the top. But as Colin reflected, “that’s how people spoke then”.
Casting our eyes around the audience, we noticed a significant number of Australian actors, writers and directors. Sitting right next to us was the playwright, Louis Nowra, (nephew of Bob Herbert who wrote the play) and his wife Mandy Sayer. Right in front of us was Felix Williamson (son of David). We also noticed Sandy Gore and Judy Farr, amongst others. This was a significant night for Australian theatre with many well known people turning out for the launch of NIDA’s professional company. I hope they do some more classic Australian drama.