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9 August 2021

Classic Australian song inspires new play

John Schumann’s iconic song I Was Only 19 is the inspiration for a new…

John Schumann’s iconic song I Was Only 19 is the inspiration for a new play set for its stage debut.

19: A Reporter’s War, to be performed by Senior Blackfriars Priory School students next week, tells the story of the main character of the Redgum song, written by Schumann, as well as that of an Australian reporter and the Vietnamese Reuters office manager, in the final days of the Vietnam War.

Writer and director Bob Becker, a drama teacher at Blackfriars, developed the full-length play after an earlier dramatisation of the Redgum classic was performed to an audience that included Schumann, a Blackfriars old scholar.

“Schumann, as well as the rest of the audience, was visibly moved by the performance and suggested that this short play had the makings of a full-length performance,” Mr Becker says.

“Judging by the reaction, it seemed to me that Australian audiences wanted to talk about this war that, until recently, no one was comfortable talking about. Yes, we had the blockbuster Hollywood Vietnam War movies, but there was so much more than needed to be explored.”

Mr Becker says the challenge was to find a way to give the song integrity while weaving the Australia soldier’s narrative into the story of the Vietnamese people caught up in the conflict.

The play tells the story of Schumann’s soldier alongside that of Walkley Award-winning journalist, Hugh Lunn, an Australian reporter for news agency Reuters during the Vietnam War, and Pham Ngoc Dinh, Reuters’ Saigon office manager.

Lunn’s book, Vietnam: A Reporter’s War, provided much of the play’s back story.

“The book not only tells us of his own experiences in Vietnam, it also gives us an insight into the Vietnamese experience told through the eyes of Dinh,” Mr Becker says.

Mitchell Renton plays Hugh Lunn, Jason Dinh plays Pham Ngoc Dinh, while Ashton Glaister plays the soldier whose story is told in the song.

The physical conflict in the play is presented via sequences created by Blackfriars student and Circobats performer Kyle Baker and Jascha Boyce from local circus company Gravity and Other Myths. Boys from Mr Becker’s Year 8 and 10 Drama classes perform the choreographed physical theatre sequences.

The soundscape was written by South Australian Screen Award original movie soundtrack winner, and former Blackfriars music teacher, Charli Holoubek.

The play was written with permission of Schumann, Lunn and Universal Music.

19: A Reporter’s War will be performed at the Fr James O’Doherty Performing Arts Theatre, Blackfriars Priory School, Prospect, on Wednesday, August 10, at 7.00 pm. Limited tickets are available online via the Blackfriars Box Office >