The enormity of the tragedy of Sydney II when it was sunk by the disguised German Raider HSK Kormoran during World War II comes home starkly in this splendid offering Sydney II: Lost and Found from Theatre 180.
The fact that 645 young Australians perished and the wreck of the ship was not discovered off the coast of WA until 2008, despite fruitless earlier attempts, brings home the remarkable achievement by all concerned.
Theatre 180, which focuses on live theatre performed in cinemas, continues the remarkable success of last year’s A Fortunate Life about AB Facey, written by director and actor Jenny Davis OAM.
This work, directed by Stuart Halusz with music composed by Ron Siemiginowski and also written by Davis, has at its heart three young actors – Myles Pollard, Morgan Dukes and Tom O’Sullivan, supported by Janet Pettigrew as Ellen.
With little more than a theatre screen showing visuals, a stage with a few props and sound, the actors transport the audience to the moment, taking on so many roles from Australian and German ships’ captains (the accents are quite convincing), sailors, a farmer, to a young woman who marries and bears a child to her lost love.
In fact, Myles Pollard plays nine roles in the production and it only takes a discreet retreat to the shadows on stage and a quick costume change to re-emerge as a new character. It is all done so convincingly that the audience is quickly transported to another time and place.
Much of the story centres on the true story of able seaman Allan Rowe played by O’Sullivan, who courts and weds Jessie. He has just learnt Jessie is pregnant when he boards Sydney
II and will never meet daughter Ellen. In fact, the real-life Ellen held a wake for her father after the warship was finally found in March 2008, due to the efforts of the Finding Sydney Foundation.
Jolly and unaffected, Rowe can only glory in shipboard life, shore leaves and finding his true love. Recent WAAPA graduate Morgan Dukes is wonderful as Jessie, fresh and lovely, but she too, chameleon-like can turn her hand to virtually any role, even a male sailor.
The sense of WA is emphasised by the screen backdrops and vignettes such as ‘here today, gone tomorrow’ signed inside an autograph book and local chatter such as a walk to Kings Park or a trip to the movies by the courting couple.
It’s all so poignant and tragic and the audience is swept up with the story cleverly interwoven with past and present as excitement builds when the warship is finally found at the bottom of the Indian Ocean.
A picture flashed on screen of the ship’s crew, young and happy, begs the question: what would their lives have been like had they survived? Jessie’s anguish at the ship’s disappearance and the fact the search did not start until six days later, brings home the terrible sense of loss families experienced.
The finding of Sydney II and the impressive memorial at Mount Scott in Geraldton hopefully brings some closure to one of the most devastating events on our shores during World War II.
Fittingly, Sydney II: Lost and Found will play at Orana Cinemas. Geraldton 13–14 and 17–21 November to coincide with the 80th anniversary of the loss of Sydney II.
Other dates include Orana Cinemas. Kalgoorlie 15–19 September, Ace Cinemas. Midland 29–31 October and 2–3 November, Grand Cinemas. Warwick 6–7 and 9–10 November.