There is something about theatre, and art for that matter, that brings out the very extremes of humanity. Art can reveal great hideous cruelty and also the most tender-hearted altruism. The act of theatre production, is largely an act of faith and hope (I’m making this as my gift to you, it’s a story I need to share with you) … which can often manifest in arrogance (I MADE THIS, YOU NEED TO SEE THIS! OR ELSE!) – and it is in the former, that Ian Zammit started Emu Height Productions late in 2010.

Here is my declaration – I know Ian Zammit very well. We met in 2008, and he directed for 2 years of Brand Spanking New, Off the Shelf, Stories from the 428 and Alison Rooke’s Combat Fatigue for the Sydney Fringe Festival 2010. He’s a lovely person, a generous director and a genuinely present human being. Practical, astute and endlessly compassionate. Since meeting we have had numerous cups of tea, and many conversations about the purpose of theatre, art, love, the universe and how good tea is. In short, he’s a good egg.

Armed with a swag of experience from the UK and from Oz and a dedicated, smiling producer (Michelle Zammit), Zammit left his day job at Carriageworks to head off on his own, fronting a theatre company based in Penrith which catered for High School Students from the local area. The trouble with much theatre is access. It has always been, and many models and companies have tried to ensure as much theatre reaches students as possible – it’s why the larger companies have such a developed Education arm (for some it’s a wing!) and why they tour so voraciously to the regions. Zammit’s desire is to make theatre a local experience, not something that has to be considered a huge trip into the city, with added stresses of travel, parking and disorientation. It is this awareness of his community which makes Emu Heights Productions more than another am-dram society attempting to fund their major musical for the year.

Starting the season with John Misto’s Shoe-Horn Sonata, Zammit has enlisted the talents of many previous collaborators and crew (yes there is a sense of longevity in what he does) to tackle this beautiful portrait of friendship, suffering, war and patriotism.
It tells the story of two young women’s trials as Prisoners of War, brought to light fifty years later as they reunite for a television documentary; and the devastating secret that kept them apart. It is a story of true endurance, optimism, resourcefulness and altruism.

Zammits production is utterly faithful to the text. He is a director who is a stickler for written text – which is a good thing in the case of Misto. Jan Langford-Penny is beautifully cadenced as Sheila and there is not one moment she doesn’t hold my attention- for me, this is Sheila’s story and Langford- Penny is honest and sincere without being overly earnest.

After the show all audiences were treated to a Question and Answer session with the actors and directors, a wonderful opportunity for all (not just students) to reflect on the play, the writing, the characters. What a delight, to have the opportunity for people to talk about theatre – not just sit, consume and leave.

Misto said ‘I do not have the power to build a memorial so I wrote a play instead’ and it is a memorial – a memorial of two women standing side by side – two women from different hemispheres – Bridie and Sheila. Interestingly in the landscape of Australian War history, women often feature as mothers, wives, waving hankies and offering up their saucepans for the war effort – but never for their active service it seems. The images, the statues we see are those of men (and donkeys). Perhaps this is why Misto’s play needs to be studied as often as it is, and why it deserves to be remounted over and over again – everywhere, for everyone.