Hallowed Ground – Women Doctors in War is a new locally written work detailing the true stories of resilience, courage, sacrifice and determination by Australian women medics as they fought to serve their country over the past century of conflict. From the trenches of the Western Front, to the rice fields and jungles of 60’s &70’s South-east Asia, the genocide in Rwanda and to more recent events in Iraq and Afghanistan, the stories are surprising, moving, often funny and incredibly honest.

With inspiration from the book Not for Glory: A Century of Service by Medical Women to the Australian Army and its Allies, writers / performers from Shift Theatre, Carolyn Brock and Helen Hopkins, immerse us into previously unheard realms of history. Here we meet four remarkable women from across the century each with their own experiences of conflict medicine.

Lilian, a surgeon is denied the opportunity for military service during World War One. Instead of accepting the Australian Army’s decision, Lilian heads to Britain and joins The Scottish Women’s Hospital and posted to the remote Balkans. During World War two, Mary, a specialist radiologist, finds herself in a similar situation. In order to serve she too travels to Britain and finds herself the only woman among 3000 British troops headed to the Middle East. Tam, a Young Vietnamese refugee and now doctor, serving as a peacekeeper in Iraq finds peace with her own refugee experience while rehabilitating displaced Kurds. And Catherine, an Afghanistan based surgeon, reflecting on the paths of the women before her and how their experiences influence her own journey as a modern military doctor.

What is so special about this production is the clarity in collaboration between writers, director and performers. This is first class storytelling. There are no bells n whistles here. It is in the strength of the words, direction and performances that makes this production sing. There is subtlety and restraint in Catherine Hill’s direction. The pace is spot on and Hill masters the use of pause and silence. Each scene is precise in vision and purpose. This really is honest and engaging storytelling.

hal 1

Chi Nguyen, Jean Goodwin, Carolyn Bock and Helen Hopkins all deliver superb performances. Each character is very well crafted and there is a strength in delivery from all four that instantly captures and holds attention. Their attention to detail in delivering a sense of time and place is impressive, either through a gesture, a stance or a change in vocal delivery, we understood each moment in time. In their own rights all four are very fine actors — but together they are an outstanding ensemble.

Hallowed Grounds design is a sensory treat. A series of screens, each unique in texture and representation frame the performance space. Designer Meg White explores the environment of the differing locations using a cache of objects. The result is a clever almost surreal backdrop of postcards of far away places. Inspired by the stories landscapes, the screens are well worth a closer inspection after the show to fully appreciate the finer design details. There is also a wonderfully harmonious collaboration between set (White), lighting (Richard Vabre) and sound (Abe Pogos) design culminating in a beautiful sensory experience.

Hallowed Ground is a celebration of the many unheard stories of women on active service past and present. But it also serves as a reminder to continually recognise and celebrate the efforts of both men and women in the future. If not, we have the potential to lose some of the most fascinating, moving and remarkable true history stories. Hallowed Ground runs at La Mama Courthouse until 19 August. Highly recommended.