The Ballad of Mulan

A gritty, grown-up retelling of the original tale, The Ballad of Mulan follows alternate timelines that see a battle hardened Mulan look back over a decade of war and sacrifice on the eve of her final battle. Delving deep into the narrative’s inherent questions of gender, war and identity, this one-woman show is a homage to the courage and fortitude of a well-known icon, popularised in the West through Disney’s animated film.

The sparse set design illustrates Mulan’s isolation, both as a woman hidden in a male dominated world, and as a person who is set to transition to the next stage of her life and feels the unease and trepidation that come with the prospect of such change. Mulan’s isolation is also evident in the play’s use of reflective narration: At one point the character even acknowledges that she is talking to herself.

Michelle Yim is engaging as Mulan, and though some aspects of the hour-long performance’s delivery might benefit from a little refinement, Yim’s interpretation and portrayal of both the experienced general and the optimistic foot soldier is confident and dynamic.

The show’s writing is accomplished, offering a fresh but pragmatic examination of Mulan’s past motivations and future aspirations, with the dual timelines striking a perfect harmony between the terror and violence of battle, and the distraction and reflection that come in the moments before. Clever lighting and sound design also serve to emphasise this juxtaposition.

At its core, The Ballad of Mulan is a powerful exploration of gender, war, and identity, as relevant and timely today as ever. Expect a little humour, a lot of heart and a refreshing focus on the darker aspects of a familiar tale.

4/5 stars


Words by Rachael Stapleton

The Ballad of Mulan is playing until March 12 at the Bakehouse Theatre

For more information and to book tickets click here

Lost Roses

Lost Roses

Martha Hall Kelly

Penguin Books 2019


Martha Hall Kelly’s Lost Roses is a historical fiction which follows the chain of events up-to and following the fall of imperialism and the rise of Boshevism in Russia across World War I. Set across three continents and following the stories of four different women, Hall Kelly weaves a tale of resourcefulness, the power of friendship, and humanity.

Fictional Russians Sofya and Luba Steshnayva, together with a fortune-teller’s daughter, Varinka, and history’s Eliza Ferriday come together throughout the novel to show the strength of female friendships, particularly those that survive across continents.

Eliza Ferriday and Sofya Streshnayva are fast friends keeping a daily correspondence, even during wartime. The pair face a number of challenges in their day-to-day lives, only made worse by the conflict. For Eliza these challenges are taming her wilful daughter and mourning the loss of her husband. For Sofya, the stakes are much higher. As one of Russia’s elite and a relation to the imperial family, Sofya must flee for her life abandoning all she holds dear: her father, her sister, and her young son who was kidnapped during the seizure of the family property.

As Russia descends into chaos, Eliza (like history’s Eliza Ferriday) begins the American Central Committee for Russian Relief, aiming to help the women and children who fled the violence of Russia to regain their lives. She becomes an ambassador for White Russians and finding the women work and accommodation.

Sofya and Luba Steshnayva are cousins to the Tsar and through these characters we see the greatness of the Tsar and later crumble. Hall Kelly reveals that much of Russian aristocracy were in abject denial of the rising threat of the Red Army.

An entirely fictional character, Varinka embodies the desperation of the serfs during this time. A village outcast and in the care of her father’s murderer, Varinka and her unwell mother are completely destitute. When Varinka finds work at one of the rich country estates as a Nanny, she takes to the baby straight away, doting upon Maxwell in a way that verges on obsessive. Not quite a villain but certainly no hero, Varinka embodies the complex nature of humanity, portraying both great good, and great evil while simply trying to survive.

Lost Roses is a novel which asks us to interrogate what it means to be human. With history as our teacher and with fiction being a way to explore it, Hall Kelly shows good and evil side-by-side within a range of characters and situations. I would recommend Lost Roses to anyone with an interest in historic fiction, Russia, and the Russian Revolution.

4/5 Stars


Words by Kayla Gaskell

A Case to Answer – by David Bevan

Originally published in 1994, a year after the trial of accused war criminal Ivan Polyukhovich, David Bevan’s book has been republished to reach a new audience with forewords from both the Senior Counsel for the Defence and Senior Counsel for the DPP. Bevan’s role as a court reporter for Australia’s first war crime prosecution spanning from 1990 to 1993, has informed his account of the trial, yet he remains a narrator rather than a figure in his own retelling allowing rather than placing himself at the centre of the legal proceedings. He gives equal weight to both the prosecution and defence, although it seems as though despite his intentions Bevan, seems to sympathise with the prosecution as most Australians are wont to do.

 

A case beginning in the 1980’s, Adelaide resident, Ivan “Ivanechko” Polyukhovich was accused of a mass murder of Jewish citizens of in the village of Serniki, in German occupied Ukraine. Ukrainian himself, Polyukhovich worked under the Wehrmacht during 1942. He was arrested in Adelaide in 1990, four years after The Advertiser released his picture and name to the public and two years after Australia amended the War Crimes Amendment Bill. The next three years were fraught with court cases, appeals and witnesses travelling from Ukraine, Israel and Russia to testify against Polyukovich.

 

Despite there being forty years between the war crime and the trial, among the residents of Serniki there was a strong sentiment and cultural memory of Polyukhovich committing the murders. This truth was further uncovered by the Special Investigations Unit (SIU) set up by the Federal Government.

 

Bevan writes a poignant and harrowing retelling of a tragedy especially when photographs of the victims sit side by side with witnesses’ court testimony. Over time, names have been lost to history but they are not altogether forgotten. The constant repetition of the court proceedings with the cross examination and constant objections really highlighted the gravity of the crimes and gave the audience a small glimpse into the horror of this massacre.

 

Human resilience is embedded through Bevan’s account with stories of pain and loss. He demonstrates the way war ripped apart families and communities through the isolated setting of a Ukrainian village.

 

Despite this, at times it felt as though I was trawling through court transcripts, hearing conflicting testimonies, with quotes from witnesses, descriptions of court video screening from SIU’s original interviews with witnesses and historians evidence. For someone without any legal training and little knowledge at times it became overwhelming and slightly confusing.

 

Bevan also has a view of the residents of Serniki as simple village folk, untouched by modernism and reluctant to adapt to modern life, unintentionally denigrating them as simpletons who come from “primitive place” focusing on the lack of “modern buildings” and population of “children and grey-haired peasants”.

 

Bevan writes a heartbreaking account of a village ravaged by war, relatively unknown by Australian history, despite our role in the trial of Polyukhovich. He has written a book that reveals an important part of Australian and South Australian legal history. Yet its legal jargon and the need to record every legal dispute caused it to drag.

 

Nonetheless it is a must read for those interested in Australian legal history and war crimes.

 

3/5

 


Words by Georgina Banfield