Thursday, May 1, 2014


By Carolyn Bock and Helen Hopkins
Helen Hopkins - Carolyn Bock - Samantha Murray

Director: by Tom Healey
Set Designer: Alexandra Hiller
Costume Design: Lyn Wilson
Lighting Design: Nick Merrylees
Sound Design: Nick Van Guylenburg
Presented by: Critical Stages and the Shift Theatre
The Q, Queanbeyan, NSW. 24th -26th April, 2014
Touring N.S.W and Victoria May/June 2014

Reviewed by Bill Stephens.

Three young women, each from a different background, each with different motivations, enlist in the Australian Army Nursing Service to assist during World War One. They find themselves in an unfamiliar land, right in the middle of fierce battles, treating horrific war injuries without facilities or equipment.

Their individual responses to their situation provide a remarkably powerful insight into the world and the work of nurses in the Australian Army Nursing Service in the Turkish battlefields during the First World War.  Playwrights Carolyn Bock and Helen Hopkins have drawn on actual letters, diaries and eyewitness accounts preserved in the Australian War Memorial in Canberra to fashion this candid, moving and impressively presented account of life on active service.

Carolyn Bock as  Grace in "The Girls in Grey" 
Gently allegorical “The Girls in Grey” is presented, without interval on Alexandra Hiller’s elegant, evocative setting of notepaper messages pinned to a make-shift hessian army hospital tent. As the play begins, the three nurses, dressed in long grey flannel dresses and, played in delicately pitched performances by the authors, Carolyn Bock and Helen Hopkins together with Samantha Murray, prepare their uniforms, read from the notes, and muse on their lives, aspirations and ambitions. Their various male relatives, lovers or patients are all portrayed by James O’Connell.  

Tom Healey’s tightly choreographed, almost balletic, direction provides a mesmerising rhythm to the production. The clarity and diction of the three nurses is striking as they tell their stories in carefully measured sentences, sometimes alone, sometimes in unison, and punctuated by moments of meaningful silence. Occasionally they utilise their hands and aprons to mime medical procedures, emerging or disappearing almost ghost-like from the deep shadows of Nick Merrylees superb lighting enhanced by Nick  van Cuylenburg’s chillingly atmospheric sound design.  

The production reaches its highpoint in a stunning finale where the three women, moving in unison and in silence, slowly and ceremoniously lay out dozens of red poppies reminiscent of the graves of the war dead. It’s a graceful and affecting image which allows the audience time to reflect on the play’s powerful message of resilience and remembrance.

Seen on this occasion at the Q in Queanbeyan on the eve of Anzac Day “The Girls in Grey” proved the perfect entrĂ©e to Australia’s most significant day of remembrance.   

       This review appears on the Australian Arts Review website..


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