Written by Australian author Kevin Summers, Patient 12 is set in a Melbourne military hospital and tells the story of a badly injured, returned soldier. The year is 1919 and the soldier has returned from the battlefields of Europe. Horrific injuries have made it difficult to identify this unknown soldier, but a few distinguishing factors have determined a short list of possible identities. Each of the possible families come to visit this injured soldier, sharing some insight into who this soldier may be and a little about his possible background.
The play opens with some video footage, setting not only the era, but also serves as a reminder of the reality of war and its consequences. Appropriately being performed in the centenary year of the ANZAC landing at Gallipoli, Patient 12 is reminder of the aftermath of the Great War and the fact the casualties were not simply those killed on the battlegrounds, but sometimes also those who managed to survive and returned home.
The story begins with Dr Thomas explaining the poor prognosis for this injured soldier, known only as Patient 12. Graham Fly gives a convincing performance as the doctor who is trying to find a family member so the patient doesn’t die alone. The compassion and concern is believable, which makes the development of his character and the unfolding story line all the more intriguing.
Patient 12 is played through numerous flashbacks by Matt Phillips, who does an excellent job of being multiple characters for each of the possible identities. These flashback scenes create various characters that connect this unknown soldier to the audience as they ponder his real identity.
One set of possible parents, the Durhams, are played by Graeme Doyle and Paula Klement. Doyle gives a solid performance as the proud and stoic father. As a relatively newcomer to performing, Klement seems a little restrained in her delivery and could easily afford to increase the level of emotion in her character.
Graeme Doyle, in the role of Denman, plays the other possible parent to Patient 12. Providing the opposing views of the community to the war and the need for conscription, Denman is a vocal objector to the war. His passionate speech was so convincing it received a huge round of applause from the audience on opening night. The contrasting parent views expose the audience to the differing opinions in the community to Australia’s involvement in the Great War and also provide a comparison to sentiments still felt today.
Danielle Payet plays Alice, a possible fiancée of Patient 12. Payet gives a beautiful portrayal of a young woman who was living a lie: saying she was in a loving relationship when really she was being abused. Alice provides yet another surprising perspective of the aftermath of war and the impact on relationships – for some it provided an escape from a bad situation. Alice also offers an opportunity for comparisons to the domestic violence plaguing our society today.
The standout performance was by Blake Stringer as Percy, who had to alternate from the mentally disturbed post war soldier suffering from PTSD to the soldier mate of Patient 12. Stringer effortlessly changed from one persona to the next. His possible connection to Patient 12, known to him as Leo added another intriguing element to this story.
The set, designed by Dexter Bourke and Danni Remaili worked well; simple, but with sufficient detail to create a sense of realism. Lighting design by Robin Le Blond/Dexter Bourke had some impressive features. Sound design by Ashley Walker and Dexter Bourke also worked well.
Patient 12 is well handled by experienced director, Dexter Bourke, who manages to find the moments of lightness as well as the tenderness in this story, then leading the audience to an unexpected conclusion. While Patient 12 takes a little while to establish all the different possible identities, the story takes some interesting and unexpected twists and ultimately becomes a gripping tale that left the audience audibly gasping at times.
There is so much more unpacking of this play to be done, but any further discussion of the characters risks spoiling the unpredictable plot line and it really is best experienced live.
Although there were a number of small opening night hiccups in this performance, with a few more runs this show will settle and the cast will relax into their roles. Overall, Patient 12 is a cleverly written and thought provoking play that will leave the audience with more questions than the story offers answers. With Australia’s ongoing involvement in world conflicts, the impact of the aftermath of war remains just as relevant, making Patient 12 a relevant story for today.