Edinburgh Fringe 2014
This iconic New Zealand show is a celebration and commemoration to all those whose lives were touched at the Battle of Monte Cassino in Italy 70 years ago.
War is strange. Ordinary people suddenly find themselves in extraordinary situations, far from home. “Strange Resting Places” is about displacement and finding common ground in conflict. It’s also about humanity and forgiveness, which are in short supply these days.
The 28th Maori Battalion find themselves pushing to re-take the ancient abbey of Monte Cassino from the Germans. It guards the road to Rome and the Allies must overcome the citadel to progress. Nobody knows who the Italians are fighting for, least of all themselves. In the fog of battle a Maori soldier and an Italian deserter encounter each other in a barn. The Germans are just outside – they are both hungry – and the Italian wants to see his family who are sheltering in the abbey above. The Maori knows that the Allies will bomb the abbey from the air and he doesn’t want his newly-acquired friend to die – what he doesn’t know (but history does) is that there will only be civilians in the abbey – and not Germans.
This is the historical setting. Amongst this is played out an intensely rich, funny and moving patchwork of scenarios. The three performers, Rob Mokaraka, Barnie Duncan and Te Kohe Tuhaka (who are all gifted musicians) flip in and out of now and then, of soldiers and civilians, of family and friends – and a collection of animals to boot – with effortless charm. Guitars become guns in a strange reversal of “if music be the food of love”. Theatrical form is built up and knocked down in waves of games and gags. There are plenty of laughs – and some moments, so rare in the theatre, where an audacious change of mood or piece of stagecraft makes you catch your breath. The representation of the bombing of Monte Cassino is one of these.
As the piece progresses you become acutely aware of the impact of the conflict over the years. Families intertwine, names are shared. Histories are joined.
The joy of this production is the interaction of the actors and the audience. It’s alive and aware – even to the point of a sensory surprise of frying rosemary and garlic to reimagine a meal in difficult circumstances. Paolo Rotondo and Rob Mokaraka’s script allows a degree of flexibility to let the piece breathe. I haven’t laughed so much for a long time – or been delighted, surprised and moved in equal measure. Heart-warming and unmissable.