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A powerful punch: Good Little Soldier

Review: Good Little Soldier
Ochre Contemporary Dance Company and The Farm
Subiaco Theatre Centre
9 July
Reviewed by Nina Levy

Good Little Soldier packs a powerful punch. A collaboration between WA’s Ochre Contemporary Dance Company and Queensland-based dance theatre company The Farm, the work tackles the challenge of post-traumatic stress disorder head-on. First presented in Berlin in 2013, Good Little Soldier was developed in response to director Mark Howett’s own experiences of growing up with a father afflicted by PTSD.

The story centres on returned soldier and PTSD sufferer Frank (The Farm’s Gavin Webber) and the impact of the illness on him, his wife Trish (Raewyn Hill) and son Josh (Otto Kosok). Frank’s flashbacks take the form of the ghosts of two fellow soldiers (The Farm’s Grayson Millwood, and Ian Wilkes). They could be mistaken for live friends, initially, as the three men drink and joke. These spectral interactions, however, quickly become a window on Frank’s nightmarish war memories.

Good Little Soldier often teeters between humour and horror, keeping the audience in a state of high alert. Like Trish and Josh we know that laughter will inevitably give way to a violent outburst — it’s just a matter of when.

While the work is scripted, the highly physical choreography is central, and it’s performed with guts by the Perth cast. An early trio sees Webber literally climb the walls, hauled upwards by Millwood and Wilkes. A push-pull duo between Hill and Kosok is impressive for its finely tuned moments of counter-balance and resistance, especially when one considers that Kosok is a year 12 student making his debut alongside Hill, the artistic director of Co3. Webber and Hill’s final, brutal duo to a rendition of “Falling in Love Again”, that, like their truce, skips and falters, is executed with savage energy by the two performers.

It’s all accompanied by acoustic and synthesised music that ranges from poignant to discordant (Dale Couper and Matthew de la Hunty), and the sound effects of war (Laurie Sinagra).

With its corrugated iron sheets, glass louvres and washing lines, Bryan Woltjen’s set has a gritty beauty, especially in combination with lighting by Howett and associate Chloe Ogilvie.

The only wobbly moment comes when the narrative digresses from Frank’s story to discuss the PTSD suffered by Aboriginal people as a result of European invasion. A necessary conversation, but it feels like a token gesture.

It’s a minor flaw, however. Good Little Soldier is gut-wrenching and compelling dance theatre.

 

Good Little Soldier plays Subiaco Theatre Centre until July 30.

This review first appeared in The West Australian newspaper, Tuesday 11 July.

Top photo: Raewyn Hill and Otto Kosok in Good Little Soldier. Photo: Peter Tea.

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