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Review: Bare Witness on Oz Baby Boomers

This review of Bare Witness was written by Christine Hill for Oz Baby Boomers. See it in its original context here.

When you see pictures of the casualties of war on the television news or in the newspapers, do you ever wonder about the person who took them? This special La Mama Theatre presentation in conjunction with fortyfive downstairs is about that person.

From an almost bare stage the audience is confronted with the stories of a group of photojournalists who see it as their duty to bear witness to the horrors of war. Their stories are told through the lens of Dani Hill, a young woman who insists “I just want to take great pictures” — and who finds herself in a war zone.

She shifts from naïve novice to tough veteran — someone who is not averse to re-arranging bodies to get a better picture — as she shows us her story. All manner of compromises are made to ensure that the outside world sees the truth. And yet truth is the very thing at stake here. Whose version of the truth is being documented and who suffers for it?

Like the lives of these photojournalists and like the victims of war, the story is broken, fragmented. Dani, sensitively acted by Daniela Farinacci, provides some continuity as she references photos to remember certain events and their effect on her.

The benign-sounding titles — photograph 011, photograph 010, photograph  090, and so on, backwards to 001 — hide the truth behind them as each evokes a moment, person or event which comes to life with a sometimes startling ferocity. The event surrounding the final photograph is so disturbing that we, the audience, finally understand the resistance yet compulsion to remember.

The intermittent footage of wolves, screened on the backdrop, is a reminder of the primitive pack mentality that humans resort to when the normal rules of civilised society disappear. In war soldiers, civilians and journalists can and do behave like animals.

At times, the actors move around the stage almost on all fours, like a pack of dogs; at other times we see a group of fun-loving partying journalists smiling for the camera as if on holiday. Later we see them as hysterically drunk and drug- affected. We remember that the collective noun for journalists is “a pack”.

Less effective, I thought, are the black-and-white projections variously suggesting the light through the camera shutter, explosions, and fragmented letters and numbers, inviting the audience to fill in the gaps. Red-and-white projections evoke the terrible bloodshed.

The five cast members — Farinacci, plus Isaac Drandic, Todd MacDonald, Adam McConvell and Maria Theodorakis — give an energetic and engaging performance. They are well served by the low and menacing sounds of the bass guitar, discordant notes of the piano, and constantly changing light. Cleverly making use of voice, mime, dance, and a minimalist set, they convincingly present life, from both sides of the photojournalist’s lens, in all its awful frailty and savagery.

This is theatre that makes demands of the audience … and then rewards. Highly recommended.

Photo by Marg Howell.

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