Won the Battles, Lost the War: The Arts of War, the 2015 Arts Revue

Julia Clark goes into battle

I was hesitant about the prospect of watching a comedy sketch show that revolves around war. However, given the Arts Revue’s reputation, it could have been a dramatic examination of the consumption and comedic depictions of war in the entertainment industry. The opening number, though, really set the scene for a rather dull and accusatory disjunct between the revue sketches and the directors’ disembodied voices screaming out of their cast: “WAR IS REAL AND THIS IS WHAT WE’RE TALKING ABOUT REMEMBER”.

Perhaps two subsequent sketches attempted to engage with the idea of using war for entertainment but when neither connected with the overall tone of the other sketches, these moments were startling and offensive. Re-writing the Last Post as a school child taking pride in front of an assembly was sweet and cleverly demonstrated the way Australia’s younger generations don’t understand our ANZAC legacy. The call-back sketch of Hugh Guest remixing the same anthem was a more radical attempt at the same message but the addition of gun shots moved the sketch past cringe-worthy youths and turned much of the audience away. In the same way, the closing number, which demanded the audience clap for the number of innocent civilians being killed in real-time during the performance, was a stark and unproductive politicisation of the performance. Instead of a self-aware criticism of their complicity in the trivialisation of war, the cast turned the lens onto the audience in an accusatory manner and offensively turned real soldiers and causalities into entertainment.

Otherwise, the paunchy humour of many sketches and performances were real hits. The relationship between two anthropomorphised houses was beautiful and heartbreaking while watching Bridget Haberecht as Nena shoot down her American counterpart to close the first act with “99 Luftballoons” was a great combination of anti-war protest and everyone’s hatred for American re-writes. Elliot Miller was an easy stand-out amongst the cast, bringing an enormous energy to the stage that carried every sketch he appeared in. Other mentions go to Maddie Houlbrook-Walk, Angus Rees, and Robert Boddington for genuine investment in their characters whether they were covering themselves in orange juice, losing their moustache in the American south, or singing in a superglued duet.

With such an enormous band, the transitions were sure to be beautiful and the addition of cast member performances added a nice camaraderie. The call-backs were often superfluous and unearned and the scene-bleeding transitions definitely needed more rehearsal, but the quality of the AV sketches was excellent and no one appeared ill-costumed with some tight scene changes.

Directors Victoria Zerbst and Alexander Richmond clearly set their stakes high with this production and, while their attempts to politicise the show and its theme proved unsuccessful, their cast and crew brought together a suburb showing that’ll be difficult to rival over the coming faculty revue season.