Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Vol 35 no. 19. 3rd August 1972
Potential Unrealised — NAM
I know a little about Vietnam. Enough to stir my conscience from its lethargy into some remote feelings of despair at man's inhumanity to etc. "Nam", directed by Phillip Mann, served to push my weak-kneed pacifism even further into the background of my awareness.
The play is based on fact, (the letters of Jim Bury to his folks back in California) and it tries to explain the development in Bury's mind of his own feelings about the war. He seems always unable to give an adequate simile for such things as the sound of bullets when they are being fired at you, and the need for survival overthrowing any moral considerations you may have had about killing or being killed.
For me, the play did no more than encourage me to feel some kind of reaction to this senseless killing. I found myself being wound up, and then wanting the play to belt shit out of me . . . to kick me into 6ome kind of action . . . to show me what it was really trying to say. Instead, I was left with the frustration of not feeling any sympathy for anyone involved, and of being totally excluded from an explanation which the play appeared to promise me. I feel that the restraint used in directing the play (which is basically a damn good one) destroys the final impact that the play is capable of having, i was too aware of the play's director controlling the ideas to be in any way moved by the play.
The performances themselves left me cold. The Medical Instructor had some powerful lines which could have hit hard if they had been given even a tincture of sincerity. Bryan Stubbings as Bury used his facial expressions well, but his performance was otherwise jerky and artificial. The soldiers' reaction to Bury's drunken oration showed a total neglect: I've heard the same boos rhubarbs and hisses in just too many plays, from Danton's Death right down to The Winter's Tale.
Teresa Woodham as Mrs. Bury seemed to understand her role a little better than did the others, but she too was played down, restraied from realising the significance of the words she was saying Erin Dunleavy's Sylvia was sad. Her constant cries of "I love you, Jim" seemed to suggest that she didn't.
The whole production reeked of compromise. The Technical side, aborted I presume by the universal and stagnating "lack of funds", was uninspiring; except perhaps for the "teddy bears' picnic" background, but that was overdone. The sounds of the helicopter gunship were like a distant jet with close guns, and altogether lacked the volume to be of any real moment in the play. This, I was told, was because of limitations with the output of the speakers. The slides were not large enough, nor new enough to mean anything. I found myself trying to remember where I had seen that one before, and which poster that mangled body was taken from.
Don't get me wrong though, I agree with the idea I just don't agree with the way it was done and I think that the play has far, far more potential than Phillip Mann's production realised.