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Review: Hotel Hibiscus, produced by Epicentre Theatre Company.

By Cameron Malcher

Before you read the rest of this review, click here and buy a ticket to one of the remaining shows of Hotel Hibiscus.

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Produced by Epicentre Theatre Co, ‘Hotel Hibiscus’ is a play that taps into the Australian theatre tradition of exploring uncomfortable and unspoken issues through storytelling. In style and presentation, it is an old school drama, as the characters, their motivations and secrets get peeled away layer by layer, creating a building tension as revelation after revelation reveal the turbulent intrigue bubbling away underneath a calm facade.

The story is a dramatisation of Australia’s involvement in the six-year ‘dirty war’ on Bougainville, fictionalised in the play as the island of Hibiscus. The story centres around Colonel Baulkham, an Australian diplomat responsible for overseeing the signing of a peace treaty between the local army and a group of rebel fighters.
The rebels are fighting both the army and the Mantis mining company that has been poisoning the land with their mining operations. Like Hibiscus Island, Mantis is a fictional representation of the very real Rio Tinto.

This play shines a spotlight on the unpleasant underside of our society, and the often unacknowledged human cost of the ways that governments and corporations go about the business of securing resources to support our western lifestyle. It was written by Robert Cockburn who, as a journalist, reported on the ‘dirty war’ some 20 years ago, and who claims in the programme that this play has sat dormant for 15 years following an initial workshopping process. Cockburn offers no pretence about the political agenda of this play, pointing the finger at global silence and inaction over similar events in Syria, and the fact that the events that inspired this story have only recently been given the chance for a hearing of court under charges of genocide and war crimes. As such, each of the characters of this play has a distinct story to tell and represents a different player in the war.

As Colonel Christopher Baulkham, Dominic McDonald delivers another powerful performance, coming from his recent stint as Prospero in the Sydney Fringe’s Steampunk version of ‘The Tempest’, this time portraying the man who represents Australia’s less-than-honest interests in the war. Opposite him is Sopa Enri as Major Leon Ramara, the brutal leader of the local armed forces whose violent suppression of the rebels is spoken of with dread. In Enri’s hands, Major Ramara is a figure of menace and unpredictable violence. Caught between them is Sampson Makali, played by Mandela Mathia, the human face of the victims of the war, whose murder opens the show and is the mystery around which the story is built. Also of note is Dr. Patty Carmichael, played ably by Amanda Jermyn, who, in some ways, comes to represent our collective silence on these issues.

Don’t go to see this play expecting a perfectly polished production. It isn’t, and some aspects of the production require a pretty active suspension of disbelief.

Don’t go to see this play expecting to see flawless storytelling. While a powerful story told through believable characters, There is still some room for further workshopping and revision.

Don’t go to see this play expecting a night of passive entertainment. If you understand the story and the implications of the events on stage, you will likely leave the theatre feeling very confronted.

Do, however, go and see this play to see an original and powerful Australian work with a story and message that casts a questioning light not only on the specifics of the Bougainville war, but on the many issues of government, corporate and societal complicity in mass-violence that are very much a part of the world we live in today, and on the victims of that violence who too often go unnamed and unremembered.

Epicentre Theatre Company are to be congratulated for bringing this play to the stage for the first time, and I sincerely hope that this play has a long future ahead of it.

There are four shows of ‘Hotel Hibiscus’ remaining from 25 to 27 October, at the Zenith Theatre in Chatswood. Go and see it.

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Theatre Junkies welcomes Epicentre Theatre Company

Theatre Junkies would like to welcome Epicentre Theatre Company, who join Blacktown Theatre Company as the second group to partner with Theatre Junkies for reciprocal advertising and promotional support.

Links for both of these companies can be found in the ‘Theatre Companies’ page (find the permanent link above our banner graphic) and you can find all advertisements relevant to each company by clicking on the respective company name in the categories menu on the left of the page.

Thanks again to the committees of these companies for coming on board and helping to build Theatre Junkies as an advertising and media site for community theatre groups.

If you are part of a community theatre company that would benefit from increase exposure on Theatre Junkies, click the advertising and reviews link at the top of the page, or email enquiries to cameron@theatrejunkiesaustralia.com.

WORLD PREMIERE: THE HOTEL HIBISCUS BY ROBERT COCKBURN ZENITH THEATRE, CHATSWOOD 19-27 OCTOBER

WORLD PREMIERE: THE HOTEL HIBISCUS BY ROBERT COCKBURN ZENITH THEATRE, CHATSWOOD 19-27 OCTOBER

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Who would believe that the Australian Government had an involvement in the death of 15,000 innocent people? Robert Cockburn’s The Hotel Hibiscus is an Australian political thriller that questions our complicity and silence in a war crime that occurred just 20 years ago.

Sent secretly to a Pacific island off Papua New Guinea to run a dirty war for an Australian gold mine, Colonel Chris Baulkham falls in love with Dr Patty Carmichael, a 30 year-old academic woman whom he fools into providing his cover.

As Patty clears up her late father’s hotel, the Colonel is cleaning up the war crimes of his foreign minister’s failed war. Colonel Baulkham plays the puppeteer, juggling his and Patty’s worlds as she and her staff risk their lives unknowingly in aid of his work. Politics becomes dangerously personal and the strings begin to tangle as Patty uncovers the inconceivable truth.

The play was inspired by conflict in the 1990s surrounding the control of an Australian mine on Papua New Guinea’s Bougainville Island, in which an astonishing 15,000 civilians – or nearly 10% of the population – were killed. By uncovering the misuse of soldiers for political and corporate greed, Cockburn’s work reveals how decent people can become complicit in crimes against humanity.

Robert Cockburn reported on this conflict for The Times, the BBC, the ABC and to Amnesty International after investigating the army’s murder of a young bus driver. Hauntingly, within weeks of Epicentre’s decision to perform the play, the United States Supreme Court gave survivors of the conflict in Bougainville permission to bring an unprecedented action for ‘genocide’ and ‘crimes against humanity’ against mining giant Rio Tinto Zinc.

As The Hotel Hibiscus goes on stage, difficult questions are being asked of RTZ and those in power in Australia who turned a blind eye to the people of Bougainville, choosing to stay silent while thousands died.

Hotel Hibiscus is directed by Greg Friend and stars Dominic McDonald, Amanda Jermyn, Billy McPherson, Colin Huxley, Sopa Enari, Charlotte Hazzard and Sudanese refugee Mandela Mathia in his stage debut.

Epicentre Theatre Company presents
THE HOTEL HIBISCUS by Robert Cockburn
18-27 October Zenith Theatre, Chatswood
Railway and McIntosh Streets Chatswood (near Chatswood Station)
Performances: Fri 19th 8pm, Sat 20th 8pm, Sun 21st 5pm, Thu 25th 8pm, Fri 26th 8pm, Sat 27th 2pm and 8pm.

Tickets $28 / $20 conc. Bookings ??? or online http://www.epicentretheatre.org.au

Media: for more information, interviews, images, cast details etc, contact Geoff Sirmai
Watchdog Communications (02) 9345 0360 mob: 0412 669 272 geoff@watchdog.com.au