Wednesday 5 September 2018 10:31am
The play Homecoming will be performed at lunchtime theatre on Thursday and Friday and on Friday and Saturday evening at Allen Hall Theatre.
University of Otago Chancellor Dr Royden Somerville QC will re-create the speech made by the University’s 1918 Chancellor upon the return of Otago’s staff and students who fought in World War One (WW1), when he makes a cameo appearance in a commemorative play at Allen Hall Theatre this week.
Written by the Faculty of Dentistry’s Associate Dean (Māori) Professor John Broughton, the play is in two parts. The first part, Hell and Bullets, is the story of a Ngai Tahu soldier, Private Hohepa Teihoka, who served at Gallipoli and the remarkable events that occurred on his return home.
"In 2014 we staged another production, The University Remembers, to acknowledge the outset of WWI ... so it was only fitting that we do something again for the end of WW1."
“His descendants gave me his diary from which the play was constructed. It was originally written for the Ngai Tahu annual hui a iwi which was held here in Dunedin in 2015,” Professor Broughton explains.
The second part, Homecoming, is about the student soldiers who returned to their studies after serving overseas.
“This part is really about how the returning students remembered and honoured their fallen comrades – which I found when searching archives in the Hocken Library. Very moving.”
Ninety-seven of the 500 students and 17 staff who served overseas in WW1 lost their lives.
Professor Broughton, who was also the local chairperson of the WW100 Embarkation Committee in 2014 says it is really important for the University to remember them.
“In 2014 we staged another production, The University Remembers, to acknowledge the outset of WWI and the embarkation from Dunedin of 1600 soldiers, among them our students, on the night of 22 September, so it was only fitting that we do something again for the end of WW1.”
Dr Somerville says he is honoured to have been asked to take on the role of University of Otago Chancellor the Rev. Dr Andrew Cameron in the play.
“To me it is of real significance that the play commemorates the University of Otago students and staff who served their country overseas during the horrifying and unimaginable years of the First World War," he says.
“Apart from pre-performance nerves, which are yet to kick in, I believe that taking part in such a well-crafted, meaningful and moving production is a very real privilege.
“The University of Otago was a much smaller university in 1918, which is the period when the play is set. The loss of bright, vibrant and clever young students, and staff, in the service of their country is something that we should continue to remember and mourn. This fine play allows us to do that.”
Professor Broughton says having Dr Somerville appear in the play is “really very humbling”.
"The loss of bright, vibrant and clever young students, and staff, in the service of their country is something that we should continue to remember and mourn. This fine play allows us to do that."
“He is recreating a very moving speech that the Chancellor made for the soldier students at that time:
“Some of our students have won coveted distinctions and have thereby brought honour to their University; Others have achieved the highest of all honours by the sacrifice of their lives. It will be the University’s sacred duty to perpetuate the memory of these fallen soldiers, that their names may ever be honoured and that future generations of students may be inspired by their bright example to do their duty, counting not the cost.”
This play is a way of fulfilling this 100-year-old promise.
The play is even more personal for one of its directors, Cindy Diver of Theatreworks, whose great-grandfather wrote the diaries the play is based on, whose husband’s grandfather returned from being a soldier to study at Otago, and whose son is part of the cast.
“I have been working primarily in verbatim theatre for the past 10 years, so the opportunity to explore my tipuna Hohepa Teihoka’s diary again was something I couldn’t go past,” she says.
“Directing a piece from existing text like this comes with a responsibility to honour the original story writer – in this case – even more so as I do feel my whanau sitting on my shoulder while we work.
"Directing a piece from existing text like this comes with a responsibility to honour the original story writer – in this case – even more so as I do feel my whanau sitting on my shoulder while we work."
“The cast and I have in worked hard to carefully hold the words of my great grandfather and his journey to Gallipoli and back again while still creating an impactful piece of professional theatre.
“This will be the first professional outing for my seven-year-old son who has enjoyed learning so much about both his ancestors in the making of this piece.”
The play will be performed at lunchtime theatre on Thursday and Friday, and on Friday and Saturday evenings.
The evening performances will also include five actor soldiers marching from the Staff Club through to Allen Hall carrying replica firearms through an amazing illumination of buildings, including the appearance of some ghost soldiers. A piper and singers will also perform.
Staff and students have been warned not to be alarmed if they see these soldiers on Friday and Saturday, and also during the play’s dress rehearsal on Thursday evening.
Professor Broughton says the producers and directors, Ms Diver and Associate Professor Hilary Halba, have put together a very talented cast and crew.
He also acknowledges the Department of Music, Theatre & Performing Arts for their full support of this production.
Matt Wilson rehearses the part of soldier Donald Stuart McNaughton ready for Homecoming.
For booking inquires and more information about the event, please contact Ms Diver at firstname.lastname@example.org