Theatre review: Sister Anzac

By Janet McAllister

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Alex Ellis, Anthea Hill and Donogh Rees star in Sister Anzac.
Alex Ellis, Anthea Hill and Donogh Rees star in Sister Anzac.

Geoff Allen's snippets-of-life drama is prettily presented by director Amanda Rees and holds attention with some lovely moving moments. There's romance and tragedy, although nothing particularly surprises in these real-life stories of nurses who ended up on hospital ships at Gallipoli.

Shortland Street meets M*A*S*H in the first triage scene as Donagh Rees takes charge in a blue matron's uniform. She has strong stage presence and her Matron Corkingdale is warm from the start, standing up for her women in the face of grumpy sexism.

The interaction of the young lovers - played by Anthea Hill and Jordan Blaikie - is touching without being cloying, and their situation develops interesting complexity. Alex Ellis also does a great job as hard-case, working-class Maggie who's hiding a poignant secret; Nicola Kawana does well in the supporting role of Sister Hilda who's on a mission from God, and so does David Capstick as the grumpy Commanding Officer.

John Parker's set cleverly uses a New Zealand flag as a hospital curtain and Fiona Nicholls' period costumes are detailed, but the overall effect is clean and pretty, incongruous given the haemorrhaging scenes and the talk of undignified hardships of frontline life: nits and urinary tract infections.

Allen's script successfully makes a narrative out of what were presumably disparate source materials, and frames the Great War as a place where Boer War experience is valued. There are one or two patches of Spielberg sentimentality where people stop responding to an emergency for a moment so they can talk about their feelings.

Some information is offered a little clumsily: it's a "little known fact", one nurse says to another who already knows it, that at least half of the Gallipoli deaths were due to contagious disease.

Still, the language has a nice, understated rhythm - saying off-handedly someone has "a beau back in Anzac" has a nice ring to it - while other lines capture the despair of patching up young men only to see them wounded again and again. Perhaps too gentle, but enjoyable.

• Reviewer Janet McAllister saw Sister Anzac at Q Theatre

What: Sister Anzac
Where & when: Maritime Museum August 31 - September 10

- NZ Herald

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