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National Interest

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On 16 October, 1975 three Australian and two British journalists were killed in Balibo, East Timor prior to the Indonesian invasion. They became known as the Balibo Five, and in 2007 an Australian coroner ruled that they had been deliberately killed by Indonesian Special Forces. National Interest, now showing at MTC, follows one thread of their story.

Aidan Fennessy wrote and directs this personal work – he is the cousin of the youngest Balibo victim Tony Stewart, who was 21 at the time of his death. His play follows the Stewart’s family struggling to cope with their loss, three decades on.

Set in the living room of Tony’s mother June (Julia Blake), who is grieving the first anniversary of her husband’s death, National Interest picks up when daughter Jane comes to visit, and uncomfortable memories of Balibo resurface.

As June deals with her ailing memory, the spectres of Tony and fellow journalists Greg Shackleton and Gary Cunningham pass through her thoughts and living room, haunting the set as they replay the disturbing events leading up to their violent deaths.

Julia Blake is terrific as the strong-willed, stubborn and ultimately wounded June, and National Interest deserves points for sticking to facts and not walloping the audience with a big emotional stick, as it could have easily done. While some of Jane and Tony’s lines seem forced and expositional at times, the play’s arresting, if heavy-going stuff.

With the ongoing conflict in Syria and the recent kidnapping of an Australian journalist in Libya, National Interest reminds us that, in the words of June, “stories must be told, otherwise they will be forgotten.”

Recommended.

National Interest is now showing at MTC, Fairfax Studio until July 21.
For tickets visits mtc.com.au


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