Seven directors, seven real-life war stories
KaBooM – Stories from Distant Frontlines is described as a physical performance event, seven vignettes from seven different directors on the topic of war and its aftermath. It is decidedly outward looking, as the word distant in the subtitle indicates, but it is also deeply attuned to the ripple effects of warfare that still disturb and haunt the Australian psyche.
The sheer number of international conflicts to which Australians have been witness can be staggering to contemplate, and KaBooM makes no claim as some kind of exhaustive ledger. Instead, the approach is deliberately piecemeal, spanning decades and continents, focusing on the personal over the geopolitical. Faced with such individualised trauma, the reasons for going to war seem utterly perverse, and KaBooM rightfully turns its back on them.
The show opens with a projection of the sea, a telling reminder of the terrifying expanse of ocean those who escape distant frontlines must traverse in order to reach safety.
We are soon ushered into the first playing space, a room cordoned off with cling wrap. A woman [Deborah Leiser-Moore, the sole performer of the night] lies next to a scarecrow in army fatigues, as Majid talks on a nearby computer screen about his impressions of his years fighting in the Iraq–Iran war. His descriptions of the sounds made by bombs and machinegun fire are visceral and immediate, as if he heard them only yesterday.
As we are gently moved around the space, various testimonials are related to us. Richard’s story of working in an infirmary during the Vietnam war is given a chilling counterpoint by the recording of the draft dates being read out over the loudspeaker. Ivor’s heartbreaking interview of fighting in the Pacific during WW2 is given a surreal edge by the monkey mask Leiser-Moore wears throughout.
The use of projection, television screens and atmospheric soundscapes all add to the texture of the piece, and come to a head in the extraordinary sequence involving shadow play and acrobatics directed by Younes Bachir. The experience of Fablice, a child soldier in Burundi, has been abstracted without losing any of the emotional immediacy, providing a moment of genuine theatricality that also hits us in the solar plexus.
Susie Dee’s final piece about Israeli soldier Guy is perhaps a tad too literal, but still manages to ask challenging questions about the nature of humanity in a warzone. None of the questions raised has easy answers, and some of the most uncomfortable issues of the night are left lingering in the air like ash.
The good folk at fortyfivedownstairs should be congratulated for programming such a moving and thoughtful response to the issue of war. It’s a perfect fit for this venue, experimental but accessible, packed with ideas but emotionally powerful. And the directors and Leiser-Moore should be proud of their achievement, navigating the space with aplomb, using multi-media to enhance rather than distract from the theatricality. It’s the kind of show that would fit neatly into this year’s Melbourne Festival, and deserves a wider audience.