WRITER/director Aidan Fennessy uses his family relationship with sound recordist Tony Stewart (21), who was part of the Channel 7 team of three killed by Indonesians at Balibo in 1975, to the full in his production of National Interest.
This world premiere, commissioned by Black Swan State Theatre Company and enacted in collaboration with Melbourne Theatre Company, re-imagines the lives of the two who had been closest to young Tony up to the result of the coronial inquest in 2007.
Mother June (a wonderfully sensitive performance from Julia Blake) and sister Jane (an equally grief-stricken but more realistic woman played by Michelle Fornasier) understandably can not let go of the past but need to constructively continue their own lives. June had lost her husband a year before; Jane has her own family to consider.
Australia had been faced with a huge dilemma - whether or not to challenge the enormous numerical might of Indonesia in East Timor which was to last for more than 20 years, and whether it should accept the deaths of the Balibo Five as by accident or design.
June’s life, to the probable detriment of her own well-being, is dominated by the presence of the three she knew so well - to her they are not ghosts but with her every day, bridging the gap between past and present.
To the audience they move quietly and unobtrusively but with a pronounced physical presence.
In addition to her son Tony (James Bell), she had known and admired reporter Greg Shackleton (Stuart Halusz) and camera man Gary Cunningham (Grant Cartwright).
All three remain just as alive to her as in those happy times when they inhabited her living room.
All three exhibit the same optimism and ultimately bravery, as well as some fear in the face of death.
The 2007 New South Wales inquest was aimed at partly establishing the truth of the deaths at Balibo.
Chaired by Dorelle Pinch (a judicial Polly Low), the inquiry appeared to establish that none of the six deaths was accidental - just plain murder.
The angled set by Christina Smith - a plain, middle-class, uncluttered living room - allows open space for the two central characters and for the characters from a former time to glide without intrusion.
Ben Collins’ music is complementary and his sound effects are sometimes startling, aided by Trent Suidgeest’s lighting.
The play provides another perspective to a story that will continue to be debated.
National Interest will be at Heath Ledger Theatre until May 20. Bookings at BOCS on 9484 1133.