The buzz of excitement palpable on the opening night performance of Justin Fleming’s Shellshock when it premiered at Parramatta’s Riverside Theatres on July 30 was amply rewarded.
As the lights dimmed the audience is introduced to the storyteller who will guide them through this heart-warming tale of love and friendship that was 100 years in the making and began at Gallipoli.
Loosely based on a true story, Shellshock follows the journey of 14-year-old Tom Lindsay (Benson Jack Anthony), his father Jack (Jack Finsterer), fiery grandma June (Sandy Gore) and his best friend Herman the tortoise.
After a story by a local news outlet identifies Herman as the oldest living survivor of the Gallipoli campaign, the Lindsays receive a visit from a charming Turkish stranger who catapults them into an international tug-of-war that threatens to tear their family apart.
Staged in the Lennox Theatre, the set of Shellshock remains largely unchanged throughout the 95-minute play despite the location of the events changing multiple times.
Minimal prop changes, energetic music and innovative lighting and projections help to execute these transitions seamlessly while uninterruptedly holding the audience attention. This is a credit to director Wayne Harrison who tackles the monumental task of bringing the many different elements of Shellshock together and making it all look so easy.
Harrison also delivers in his guidance of an excellent cast who play their roles to perfection, especially Jack Finsterer who presents his character’s conflicting emotions so well that his joys and defeats feel like our own.
Justin Fleming’s script is exceptional. From the beginning the audience is promised a laugh or two and the play delivers this in abundance, but there are also a few unsuspected moments that bring the house almost to tears.
We are only treated to a few sightings of Herman – for the most part he is present in conversation rather than physical form – but it doesn’t feel like we’ve missed a beat in his story.
A great night’s entertainment and highly recommended. Book to catch Shellshock at the Riverside Theatres until August 8.