The Australian

Jumping on the Anzac bandwagon

- MATTHEW WESTWOOD @matthewwes­twood

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.

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