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This is a story with many characters, including powerful men at the centre of the decision-making at the time: Prime Minister Andrew Fisher, Catholic Bishop Mannix, Major General Bridges. Alongside these characters, the poignancy of the story about Archibald Jordan – a soldier of whom so little is known, and ‘Sandy’ the only horse to return to Australia, who was given to the army by a young farmer from Tallangatta. The challenges of the script to carry the audience on Sandy’s journey across continents, from 1914-1918 in 50 minutes are achieved by adroit transitions in the performances of the actors to skilfully shift emotion and time and place.
Actors 1-5 play the roles of all the various characters. They immediately transform their characters to do so. Five actors play 20 characters, and simultaneously, act as members of a pseudo Greek chorus. They comment, they narrate, they re-iterate, but most importantly they are charged with the purpose of bearing witness to the actions, to the intent and the folly of the over-arching story.
Whilst it is an ensemble piece, the main protagonist is the character of Archibald Jordan, and it is through his journey that the story of the war is evoked. He is almost the ‘unknown soldier’. And Sandy, the only horse chosen to return to Australia from more than 130,000 that went to the war? He is there, on stage, present as a powerful force. He is patted, groomed, called upon for solace, and it is in the tenderness of the miming that the audience recognises and is moved: voiceless, powerless, utterly depended upon. No puppetry, no tricks, but he is there in all his equine glory.
Note: The cover photo of Sandy, held by Major General William Throsby Bridges, Commander of the Australian Imperial Force and the 1st Australian Division. Taken in Egypt. Picture: Australian War Memorial, ID No. P05290.001