Mum, Me and the IED – Lisa chats with Kevin Jackson. (Theatre interview)
Mum, Me and the IED is showing at The Depot Theatre August 15 – September 1. You can grab your tickets here.
The Depot Theatre has played host to some of the best emerging theatre of the last few years, so much so that it has established itself as a haven for independent productions seeking a space that offers that rare combination of professionalism and the creative freedom necessary to expermient with outsider and non-establishment themes and ideas. Collaborations theatre group is one such team. For the second time at The Depot Theatre, they are about to bring us a production written by James Balian and Roger Vickery, which in itself engages the audience in the interesting transition from short story to theatre. This time, Kevin Jackson has come on board to direct, being moved to do so by the subject matter and the writers successful representaiton. All the buzz around the production says Kevin is calling forth some remarkable performances, and moving the production in exciting directions.
It’s rare for Kevin to be so moved by a locally written play. With his trademark qualities of meticulous preparation and attention to detail steeped in his expereince with the classics, the production of Mum, Me and the IED has given him an opportunity to combine an immediate social concern with the power of independent theatre.
The Depot Theatre website has this to say about Mum, Me and the IED:
World premiere of new Australian play
Rob is a former army medic suffering from his time in Afghanistan. His anti-war mother wants to save him. So do his counsellor and older brother. But the officer charged with Rob’s recovery is pulling out their stitches.
Racked with guilt, desperate to sort truth from fantasy, Rob starts time travelling between Afghanistan, his early life and now.
Mum, Me and the IED explores the effects of war-induced PTSD on already complex personalities and the military’s dualistic responses to spiritual and psychological I.E.D’s.
I was lucky enough to be able to send Kevin a couple of questions regarding his efforts with this production, and he was kind enough to get back to me with his thoughts. The below is the result of this chat.
LT: How does the play Mum, Me and the IED address the interesting topic of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder?
KJ: Like Arthur Miller’s stylistic conceit in his play, AFTER THE FALL, this play is told through the mind set of its principal character, in our case through Rob Harrison – a soldier (Medic) returned from several tours for the Australian Army in Afghanistan. Rob is struggling with injuries of the mind, what has been, in our modern times, identified as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder – PTSD. PTSD is an illness that is of the mind that when ‘triggered’ takes the individual out of his ‘present’ and back to the ‘past’, to the trauma(s) of origin. Beside the violence of the psyche which is often demonstratively distressing, the unpredictability of the triggers are a principal ‘danger’ to the person. This new Australian play takes us into the mind of a particular soldier as he attempts to find a way to acquire an equilibrium to be able to function in his world. He is, like all of us, an unreliable narrator. Recalling and shuffling his ‘triggers’ that may make sense for himself of what has happened, what is happening to him. We only have one voice in a conscious PTSD state talking to us. Most plays, that I have read around this issue, avoid the mention of PTSD. Mr Balian and Vickery’s play bring it to vocal underlining – it is said out loud, often, it is not a mysterious unnamed illness. The audience will experience the result of psychological injury. It is a roller coaster horror story.
LT: What drew you to the subject matter?
KJ: I have been concerned for some time about the relative lack of support for the mentally ‘injured’ soldier who has until recently been stigmatised as a ‘malingerer’ or ‘pretender’ of injury. The Australian Army, the Australian Federal Government seem to be recalcitrant in its respect and/or belief in the scale of the issue of the soldier’s who have returned with this ‘injury’. A missing leg, arm, eye, any Physical evidence is regarded with some kind of undeniable respect and compensation – but that of the mind is suspicious and debatable. It is, probably, a serious BUDGET issue for the Government and Defence Force, and to deny, or under report the issue is a pragmatic action of immense expediency (and cruelty.)
It is urgent for me to bring onto the stage an Australian play that may be a conscious source to begin a more public consideration/conversation about this terrible problematic ‘epidemic’. There is a kind of poetic irony to be rehearsing and later, playing this work, in The Depot Theatre, in the grounds of the Addison Road Community Centre, which was once an army base. To enter the site one passes a Historical Guide Post/Sign that tells us of The Save Our Sons (SOS) organisation, set up by Noreen Hewett in the era of the Vietnam War, in June 1965, until, it finally ended in 1972. Said Ms Hewett, “We wanted mothers to stand up and say, ‘I’m a mother and I don’t want my son to go’ or ‘I don’t want any son to go, not just mine.’ ” Too, we park our cars in what was probably the Parade Ground where the young 20 year old draftees and volunteers were inducted into the automaton of Army Service. Our Mary Ellen and our Captain Crowe, our Rob and Brownie, feel, spookily, the ghosts from the past been resurrected in Mr Balian and Vickery’s play. We feel the responsibility of the conversation that this play in its pertinence is having.
I accepted to work on this play because I could not find a contemporary work that was Australian that could authentically speak to us today in 2018. THE MODERN INTERNATIONAL DEAD, by Damien Millar (2008), and then THE LONG WAY HOME, by Daniel Keene, were the last Australian plays of quality that took me to a conscious space of social alarm. I was reading American and, especially, British plays that touched, investigated these themes. I needed to find an authentic Australian voice concerning the Australian issue.
LT: Negative stigma is one of the primary issues of PTSD. How does your direction of Mum, Me and the I.E.D. deal with some of the negative ideas surrounding PTSD?
KJ: PTSD is a modern term for what we, in my family called, “Shell Shock”, that went back into the history of my family, back to my Great grandfather, a survivor of World War I, to my uncles and dad who survived the Kokoda Trail and the Navy, who behaved in most peculiar, moody, ways, especially on ANZAC DAY, when they seemed to lose the plot with their past comrades of war in drunken reunions. I thought they were just stupid men, and now in hindsight comprehend the horrors of war and the comradeship that was welded into their lives. The possibility that they were coping with shell shock, PTSD, never entered my head. It was the education I had had which hid the possibility of psychological damage. I need to assuage my ignorant guilt in my behaviour to my progenitors. In reflect, I have come to appreciate the behaviour of Barney and Roo in the iconic Australian Play THE SUMMER OF THE SEVENTEENTH DOLL, better. I long to see a production of the Australian play, A TOUCH OF SILK, written in 1928, by Betty Roland, concerning an Aussie soldier returning from the Fields of War in France, with a French wife. (It is not only a PTSD story, but also a Refugee story!)
This is 2018, one hundred years since the end of the First World War, the supposed War to end all Wars. How many men, generationally, apparently, returned from war uninjured, but, are living daily in ‘tortured’ states? Hiding in rooms, the bush, the outback? In our research for this play we have shared the poetry of writers of war experience.
FOREHEADS OF MEN HAVE BLED WHERE NO WOUNDS WERE – World war 1 veteran, Wilfred Owen.
This is still the stigma of the contemporary PTSD veteran. There are no visible wounds. It causes shame, guilt and anger in these men.
LT: Verbal memory is important for diagnosing PTSD, and an important component of the treatment of it. How do you direct different characters speaking about PTSD, given it will be a very different language experience depending on the character?
KJ: I have encouraged the writers of MUM, ME & THE IED to expand the impact of PTSD into the ripple affects on the family and community at large. We have come to realise that all of us whether war veterans or not, in the pell mell of our present pursuits of living in the modern world, consciously or unconsciously walking through, metaphorically, fields of IED’s that can trigger in our psyche and take us to places of danger and erratic behaviour. Grief we are told will pass, but in truth it sits within us permanently and may be triggered by the most trivial experience as the recent play and production, AIR, by Joanna Erskine, at The Old 505, taught us.
Of course, I have always pointed out that the writers FREUD and JUNG wrote to help, through therapy, solve life problems at the same time that STANISLAVKI wrote his books to solve artistic problems for actors – skills for acting. That the modes to solve these problems, for life or art, are extremely similar. The actor is always searching his ‘past’ to solve his ‘present’ needs to channel entry points to find truths to create for an audience. It is where the artist searches for the ‘triggers’ to creative belief. The actor needs to be mentally “healthy’ to willingly take on the risk of injury.