Rats (Dirt)

31 Oct

I’m sitting in a park. In a few hours I’ll be in a theatre, but now I’m outside. It’s a magnificent spring day, the sort of day that makes you think God has bought herself a new Photoshop suite and is having some fun. The green of the trees and the blue of the sky vie with each other in brilliance. I’m not alone in my enjoyment: children play in raucous excited groups; parents gather in twos and threes and fours, chatting, smiling, laughing; and older people sit quietly, sunning themselves in the warmth. This park is in Hurstville. Demonized recently by Pauline Hanson, the suburb is the epitome of a gloriously diverse Australia.  It is difficult to picture a more beautiful scene: the trees, the grass, the flowers, the sky, the children, the howitzer.

Yes, tucked away in the corner of the park is a howitzer. It sits on a pedestal, but there is no plaque. It’s a veteran of I don’t know which conflict. The children are oblivious to it. Why is it here?

A few hours later I’m at the Old 505. It is the premiere performance of a new Australian work. I know many of the cast and the writer director. I’m excited about the show and I’m not disappointed. Chris Huntly-Turner has created a piece that’s ambitious, energetic and engaging. It’s an exploration of the experience of Australians during the siege of Tobruk in the Second World War. There are two plays in repertoire; Dirt, which explores the experience of the men at the front, and Moonshine, which explores the experience of the women at home. Tonight is Dirt.


Photo by Liam O’Keefe

It’s the story of Little People caught up in Big History. (These men are not in a park in Hurstville in 2016.) The division of Rats into plays dealing with the male and the female experiences reaps fascinating dividends in Dirt. These men face real current danger, but what are the expectations from home? And are they real or imagined? Why are we here? To do our duty? And what, exactly, is that?

I’ve never been a fan of World War Two. (Neither were most of the people who fought it.) It lends itself too easily to simplistic readings. Like some children’s book, the enemy seems too clearly bad, and we seem too clearly good. Every sabre rattler evokes WW2. But Huntly-Turner and his terrific cast and crew do a great job in exploring the treacherous nature of the terrain.

Our duty, whatever that may be, is difficult to map. But we will attempt to connect our suffering, our sacrifice, our sins with something larger. We will try to make sense of them.

And so a howitzer sits in a park in Hurstville.

Paul Gilchrist


Rats (Dirt) by Chris Huntly-Turner

fledgling theatre company

Old 505 Theatre til Sat 5 Nov




Tue 25 October 7pm, Thu 27 October 8pm, Sat 29 October 8pm, Tue 1 November 8pm,Wed 2 November 8pm, Fri 4 November 8pm and Sat 5 November 6pm


Tues 25 october 7pm, Wed 26 October 8pm, Fri 28 October 8pm, Thu 3 November 8pm and Sat 5 November 8pm

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