IN Their Footsteps is a compact piece of verbatim theatre about the experiences of American women who were involved, in varying capacities, in the Vietnam War. Nurses, social workers, entertainers, even librarians.
As this short but searing glimpse of the times and places makes clear, these women often had no idea of what they were getting into and like most of us in Australia at that time could not have found Vietnam on a map.
The opening up-front descriptions of the uses to which the male soldiers put tampons (good for cleaning out gun barrels) pins down the female experience from the start. Expectations from that era about suitable dress (stockings, garters and even girdles while being transported to Vietnam) remind about some of the repressive mores of the time.
And there’s some archival footage of comedian Bob Hope entertaining the troops with the undercurrent of the casual sexism of the day. The women remember that sexual assault was not uncommon.
Performers Nola Bartolo, Suzann James, Sonya Kerr, Linda Nicholls-Gidley and Rowena Robinson make a strong interweaving team as they tell the stories of women in that war. Some fell into it by accident, others went out of a sense of patriotic duty. Some went for adventure.
Their post war experiences included invisibility. Not all of the female casualties are recognised on the dark and sombre Vietnam Veteran’s Wall in Washington. Women went home to a country that really did not want to hear about death and politics and Agent Orange.
It’s hard to single out performances in this short but well done ensemble piece. It’s the voices and the words that stay in the mind afterwards, the images of life and death and a realisation late in the piece by one woman of the sheer beauty of the country where all the horror was happening.
It heads for the Adelaide Fringe to challenge memories of a history and a time that should not be forgotten.