Only the dead have seen the end of war – Plato
Now that the war is through with me
I’m waking up, I cannot see
That there’s not much left of me
Nothing is real but pain now
Metallica – One
Finding suitable mental health care is difficult at the best of times, but when one is a soldier and everything is lumped under ‘post-dramatic stress disorder’, the chances of being treated as an individual are slim. In the hundred years since the end of the First World War, ‘shellshock’ and associated disorders have seen no sign of decline… Written by Louise Gooding, and directed by Eloise Lally, Gold Coast looks at one soldier whose own symptoms have a detrimental effect of his family. Initially introduced to Joe (Tommy Burgess) and Roz (Olivia Bromley) in 2001, the play moves back and forth in time over the course of their marriage.
Even though he’s only a reservist and recently married with a one-year-old child, Tom opts to serve overseas in Iraq. Like many soldiers before him, Tom’s affected by he’s seen first-hand. However, he’s handicapped by his inability to express his thoughts and feelings at the best of times. Discharged from the Armed Forces, Joe’s ‘body’ returns, but he isn’t ‘whole’…
As well as Roz, Bromley also plays Lisa, her daughter. In some ways she is the most important person in the narrative, as it’s through her that Joe is ‘anchored’ and wants to be better for. It’s also through her that we see echoes of Joe’s past and attempts to connect the dots.
Roz and Joe’s separation also plays a big part in the play, with Roz taking Lisa with her to Australia. Asides from accepting a senior role there, the physical distance and change of scenery is a boon for Roz. Lisa, however, takes a different stance. She misses Britain’s rain and Oz’s precipitation-free climate constantly reminds her of the conditions her father must have endured in Iraq before…
Joe’s ‘thirst’ is a recurring motif throughout the play. With glasses of ‘clear liquid’ lined up in a row on shelf upstage, it could be taken as a link to the scarcity of water in the arid theatre of war or to Joe ‘needing’ shot after shot of vodka. The set itself with its clean, white walls evokes the sterility of the doctors’ offices Joe visits, as well as his ‘surface’ – blank, but with all the messy emotions bubbling underneath.
Tonally, the ‘professionals’ Joe meets to help him aren’t as ‘clinical’ as you would expect, but then they also suggest who is really ‘mad’? If you experienced first-hand the horrors of war, you would be taciturn too.
While the play concerns Joe’s past, it is just as much about Lisa and her ability to cope, or not… Seeking answers and support from anywhere she can find it, her search takes her to online chatrooms where ’emos’ are fascinated by death and egg each other on to commit suicide. Treated as an ‘outsider’ (at least from her perspective) in Australia, Lisa relies more on the cyber-global community, simply because they listen. However, whether they have her best interests at heart is a different matter… Still, the long-distance/Skype relationship Lisa has with her father keeps her on an even keel.
Joe’s relationship with his own father is a different question altogether. At first it seems that Joe has been emotionally distant from an early age, but the ‘uneasiness’ hinted at between himself and his father explains a lot about his propensity for keeping things in and the horrors that have running around in his mind, before he even reached adulthood…
© Michael Davis 2018
Gold Coast ran at Theatre503 between 13th-18th February.