Theatre explores a soldier’s inner torment

Head Wound installation performance flyer image by artist Pamela Engels

Soldiers who survive war might be considered lucky, but they can suffer lifelong psychological damage. A bold new performance work explores the human horrors of war through one man’s struggle to piece together fragments of memory and identity shattered by a traumatic head injury.

In a highly innovative performance installation at Palmerston North’s Te Manawa Museum, Massey University dramatist Associate Professor Angie Farrow is collaborating with a puppeteer, a digital lighting artist, a musician and a writer/actor to create the short piece, titled Head Wound.

The work, which will be performed multiple times during the weekend of February 27 and 28, is based on a text produced by theatre practitioner John Downie, who in turn was inspired by a book about a soldier who lost all of his memories and perceptual ability. That book, The Man with a Shattered World, by eminent Russian neurologist Alexander Luria, focused on the case study of a Second World War soldier who sustained a severe head wound. It caused him to experience the world – and himself – as constantly shifting and unstable.

Dr Farrow, who teaches in the School of English and Media Studies, says the performance begins in the First World War and transitions to 2016. It evokes the impact of war on survivors by illuminating the fragility of human existence – both physical and psychological – in the face of deadly and increasingly sophisticated weaponry.

“There’s a kind of eerie juxtaposition in witnessing the profound damage to one man’s skull and psyche in all its fragility, and knowing that weapons of mass destruction were formulated in the human mind.”

The multi-media performance includes a life-sized puppet created and operated by Leda Farrow (a Massey graduate with a Bachelor of Fine Arts), visual digital projections of archival footage by another Massey graduate, Luke Anderson, who is technical director for the School of English and Media Studies, original music by singer and composer Suzy Hawes and writing by John Downie. Dr Farrow is director and dramaturge for the production.

The team is integrating items – such as wartime medical equipment – from the Dr David Warnock Medical Museum in Palmerston North into the performance to bring life to the stories they represent, says Dr Farrow.

“The museum’s director, Andy Lowe, is very supportive and wants to push the concept of what a museum is beyond dead exhibits,” she says.

Head Wound is around 10 minutes in duration, and will be performed at midday, 1pm, 2pm and 3pm on Saturday 27th and Sunday 28th in the Te Manawa foyer. Admission is free.

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