Although typically fought between two nations, Hellspawn pitched a new twist to traditional war stories — a battle fought between man and emu.
Produced by The Imaginary Theatre Company, Hellspawn recounted the historical Great Emu War between British soldiers and the emus in the Australian outback. The resulting story delved into the brutality of war, the fragility of the human spirit and the persistence of morality in the face of conflict.
Written by Evan Lepp, Hellspawn is most relevant in our particularly turbulent political and social climate. Throughout the play, the characters struggle to accept their mission to kill innocent animals while buckling under the pressure to keep each other safe.
As a result, the line between people and animals blur.
The play asked the audience to consider why human beings feel superior to other species. It developed this theme by stating the main difference between humans and animals is their ability and desire to create deadly weaponry. This violent conviction isn’t shared by the animal community and separates the two species into predator and prey.
The more abstract elements of the play are supported through the use of minimalistic sets and intimate dialogue between vulnerable characters.
With a dark atmosphere, tarp tents and soft lighting, the set combined to create the same isolated and dramatic mood that defines Lepp’s script. It conveyed the darkness of war and the pensive reflection that led the characters to look inward and challenge their beliefs.
This becomes readily apparent as soon as the play begins.
In the opening scenes, we’re introduced to three uniquely different soldiers: Major G. P. W. Meredith, who leads the human characters, Jones, who struggles to accept his task of killing the innocent animals and Green, who fights to be respected by the other soldiers.
Each character had vastly different outlooks on their tasks and struggled with the vast array of moral conflict inevitably evoked by war.
This conflict is reflected in the casting.
Coven Madensky played two roles in the play: Meredith and Eda the Emu. Madensky’s stage presence captured the audience’s attention through her hilarious take on the the play. From the emu’s made up language for human objects to the child-like teasing that takes place between soldiers, the innocent humour threaded through darker themes resonated with the audience.
The play’s direction gave the script room to achieve this. It tended towards simplicity, refraining from big production elements to emphasize the intensity of the script.
The lighting and costume design similarly complemented this approach — the characters appeared ragged, with pained expressions that seemed exaggerated in the light.
After the play, Leppsaid he hoped Hellspawn was a departure from standard war stories that often bring more drama than substance.
“I wanted to parody those intense yet hopelessly cheesy war films that we seem to produce endlessly,” he said.
Lepp’s playful take on this lesser-known battle parodied the typical war movie through a humourous yet tragic take on death that makes us reevaluate our place, animal or human.
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