As part of their GreatWar100 series, the Finborough Theatre has staged the first UK production of Alan Seymour’s The One Day of the Year in 50 years. Dubbed an Australian theatre classic, the play brings up ideas of family conflict, war, and love set against the backdrop of ANZAC day, and this small but perfectly formed fringe production is all the more poignant for being staged in the year of the 100th anniversary of the Gallipoli campaign.
For war veterans Alf and Wacka, the Australian and New Zealand version of Remembrance Sunday is all about paying respects to the soldiers that lost their lives for the sake of their country, and commemorating the forging of Australia’s national identity. But Alf’s son Hughie, a fresh-faced student, and his upper class girlfriend Jan see the nationalist day of celebration through more modern eyes. When Hughie and Jan publish their university newspaper featuring photos of veterans passed out in an alcoholic haze, the father and son arguments begin.
Whilst this play was controversial when first premiered in 1960, its major themes allow for this firmly rooted English production to still be a comment on the time it was written as well as incurring a new depth of thought for a modern audience to socialism, nationalism and heroism themes in the UK as well as in Australia.
Director Wayne Harrison’s small production fits neatly into the small upstairs space of the Finborough, the kitchen sink drama playing out with an energy that leaps off the stage. Mark Little’s drunken Alf offers his middle class view on life with generous dedication, although his confrontation scene with his son feels a little restrained. Paul Haley’s Wacka sits through most of the play like a glass case of emotion, but it is his final speech of his time fighting in Gallipoli that tugs on the audience’s heartstrings. James William Wright presents the headstrong Hughie in his ‘half mast’ trousers as the symbol of boyish youth throughout, whilst his girlfriend Jan (Adele Querol) proves a little tougher to warm to, her upper class views denoting her political stance so succinctly that it often comes across as patronising. Finally, Fiona Press provides the stalwart Dot, a woman torn between her husband and her son, but always sure that the problem cannot be so great that it can’t be fixed with a cup of tea.
Artistic director of the Finborough, Neil McPherson, and Defibrillator Theatre present this revival a month after ANZAC day with a resolute ambition to explore its themes in a new period; and it works. Forcing its audience to consider their own views of war commemoration, The One Day of the Year is still as great a piece of playwriting, just as it was over 65 years ago.
The One Day of The Year is playing the Finborough Theatre until 13 June. For more information and tickets, see the Finborough Theatre website. Photo by Mark Douet.