REVIEW: Shellshock, Riverside Theatre

There is a buzz of excitement in the audience tonight as the first performance of playwright Justin Fleming’s Shellshock is about to make its debut at the Riverside Theatres in Parramatta.

As the lights dim we are introduced to a storyteller who will be our guide through this heart-warming tale of love and friendship — 100 years in the making that started 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 Lindsay family receive a visit from a charming stranger who catapults the family into an international tug-of-war that threatens to tear the family apart.

Staged in the Lennox Theatre, the set of Shellshock remains largely unchanged throughout the entirety of 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 to 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 look easy.

From the very beginning the audience is promised to a laugh or two and the play delivers in abundance but there are also a few unsuspected moments that bring the house almost to tears.

The audience is 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 you’ve missed a beat in Herman’s story. Justin Fleming has certainly outdone himself this time.

All the cast members played 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.

All in all a night with Shellshock is a night well spent and highly recommended.

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