Pushing the boundaries, Other People’s Wars almost comes across as controversial for the sake of it. I went into this with some reservations yet telling myself to be open-minded.
Award-winning company The Bacchanals reunite with award-winning playwright Dean Parker (Slouching Toward Bethlehem) to present the stage adaptation of Nicky Hager’s controversial 2011 book. Other People’s Wars looks at New Zealand’s involvement in the “War on Terror” and what Hager claims really happened behind the stories of peace keeping and humanitarian aid.
As the audience enters the cast are milling about on stage in various types of camo pants, combat boots and plain shirts. The show opens with each of them introducing themselves and which characters they will play. This is a welcoming start to the show, not often does an audience meet their entertainers on stage. However, this initial impression is soon overtaken by a man in a sequined Uncle Sam jacket singing “Born in the USA” with the rest of the cast dancing in burkahs behind him. Culturally insensitive, yes. Entertaining? Not so much.
Throughout the show the tone yoyos from dead pan serious to almost slapstick, a technique that is hard to swallow considering the tense subject matter. At one point a battle plan is explained using paper cut outs of people, a wooden truck and people with toy planes making “pyew pyew” noises. Perhaps this was meant to be a commentary on how badly the American army planned their battles but it just came across as if they were making a joke out a clearly not-funny situation. In places the dialogue was too heavy on the details making it hard to fully understand all the information that was being given; lots of dates, times and jargon all unloaded in rapid succession in an attempt to cover all the necessary details.
The cast all performed admirably, each performing multiple roles of both genders. Having scenes in many different settings calls for some very quick scenery and costumes changes, all of which the cast handle easily and without interrupting the flow of the story. The same man who brought us the sequin clad Uncle Sam also plays George W. Bush in a plain white mask and a black cloak, the symbolism of this costume choice isn’t exactly clear, a faceless man surrounded by his commando cronies? Bush is anything but faceless.
The lighting and sound are brilliant (if at times painfully loud). The show features two live battle scenes with realistic sound effects including air strikes, bombing and of course guns. It really does feel like the audience is caught in an attack. However a show would be nothing if it simply rode on well designed and operated lighting and sound.
While the presentation of information is all one sided, Other People’s Wars does leave the final decision for the audience to make up its own mind. This is the sort of show you must see to form a conclusion, not one you can simple be told about, in saying that I can’t honestly recommend spending $20 to see it. Other People’s Wars is great as a show that will challenge and question the audience, not so much as one that will entertain.