Jumping on the Anzac bandwagon
IT’S not yet April and already I have Anzac fatigue. Not with the Diggers and Gallipoli, or with the day of remembrance on April 25: amid all the distractions of modern life, Anzac Day is one of the few regular occasions we have for collective solemnity and contemplation.
No, the weariness is with the rush of arts organisations to present Anzac centenary tributes. There has been an unrelenting stream of announcements about plays, musicals, concerts, forums, screenings, exhibitions and outdoor installations, all purporting to say something about Gallipoli, the Anzacs, the nurses, the Turks, the British, World War I, war in general, the home front and the way in which later generations have honoured the Anzac spirit. In a quick count I noted 30 separate events.
You wonder if there’s an artistic imperative behind them or just another instance of opportunistic programming, like the way symphony orchestras and theatre companies leap on the anniversaries of long-dead composers and playwrights.
News last week of the death of playwright Alan Seymour got me thinking about the arts sector’s response to the centenary. I’ve just re-read The One Day of the Year, Seymour’s cry from the heart about Anzac Day and what he believed it had become in the mid-1950s.
The play is an intergenerational report, delineating the values of older Australians and those of the educated young who think they know better. In the character of Wacka, the old digger, we glimpse an attitude of quiet dignity, and we learn he was at Gallipoli on the first Anzac Day.
At a “quickening of light” in Seymour’s stage directions, Wacka stands to attention and hears Last Post sounding from a radio in another room. Hit Productions is touring the play which deserves to be seen widely in this centenary year.
Several Anzac projects offer new perspectives: among the many on offer are the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra’s Towards First Light, a new composition for voices and orchestra by Kate Mulvany and Iain Grandage; and, at the Riverside Theatres in Parramatta, Justin Fleming’s family play Shellshock, about the oldest survivor of Gallipoli, a tortoise called Herman.
Wesley Enoch and Tom Wright’s play Black Diggers, first presented last year, tells the little-known story of indigenous servicemen. It’s nearing the end of a national tour, supported by the federal government’s Anzac centenary arts fund.
There is no shortage of options for people to pay their respects, but the disappointing ratings for Nine’s miniseries Gallipoli suggests a risk of overexposure of Anzac stories.
It was terrific television, but the history or the telling of it failed to connect with a large audience.
For me, it will be difficult to go past the Australian Chamber Orchestra’s recent concert, Reflections on Gallipoli, staged with great sensitivity by Neil Armfield. Richard Tognetti’s performance of The Lark Ascending, at the concert’s end, will stay in the memory a long time.