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Once on Chunuk Bair returns to the stage after 25 years

Lest We Forget
Once on Chunuk Bair returns to the stage after 25 years

Inspired by the extraordinary courage of those who gave their lives in New Zealand’s Gallipoli campaign, in June Auckland Theatre Company (ATC) revives Maurice Shadbolt’s iconic New Zealand production, Once on Chunuk Bair.

A theatrical highlight in ATC’s 2014 season, this thought-provoking tale of tragedy, heroism and heartbreak runs from June 12 to July 5 at Auckland’s Maidment Theatre.

Once on Chunuk Bair is once again directed by the lauded Ian Mune, who introduced the play to the New Zealand stage in 1982 and directed the last professional production in 1989.

Mune and co-director Cameron Rhodes lead a cast of some of New Zealand’s strongest male actors to tell the shocking and significant story of needless bloodshed.

They include Andrew Grainger (Chicago, The Heretic, Anne Boleyn), Wesley Dowdell (Outrageous Fortune), Steven Lovatt (Fallen Angels, Anne Boleyn, Angels in America), Jordan Mooney (Lord of the Flies, The Heretic), Kevin Keys (August: Osage County, The Almighty Johnsons, Nothing Trivial) and, in his first production for ATC, Sam Snedden (The Pride, Private Lives, The Pitchfork Disney).

The play is set in the hours between dawn and dusk on August 8 1915, the day the Wellington Battalion were fatefully tasked by British Generals to take the strategic peak of Chunuk Bair on Turkey’s Gallipoli Peninsular.

After fleeting success, the young men were struck with a massive counter-attack. Yet, with extraordinary courage, the stalwart Wellingtonians battled to hold off the enemy, firing their rifles and those of their fallen companions until the metal was too hot to hold.

As one of New Zealand's most celebrated novelists, playwrights and history-writers, Shadbolt recreated the tragic episode of modern war: a battle that defined us as a nation. Of the 760 men tasked to take the summit, 711 became casualties. Tragically these men died in vain as the Gallipoli campaign was eventually abandoned by the Allies.

ATC artistic director Colin McColl says this moving account is one that must never be forgotten.

“Buried for a quarter of a century, what could be more appropriate than to see the return of the powerful Once on Chunuk Bair during this historic year.

“These young men headed off to war in good faith to fight for king and country, only to be used as cannon fodder by their British commanders. Once on Chunuk Bair shows the courage and endurance of our brave lads, the friendships and camaraderie they had for each other. It’s an event that has defined the Anzac spirit. This is a play that must be seen by anyone interested in the shaping of our culture,” McColl says

Seen as a masterpiece of remembrance, Once on Chunuk Bair was conceived by Shadbolt following an emotional visit to Turkey’s Anzac Cove and Chunuk Bair in 1977. He saw the battle as a defining moment in New Zealand history, when the country realised its identity was no longer defined by British imperialism.

Five years following his journey the play was finished and in 1982 Mune directed its first performance at the Mercury Theatre, Auckland. By 1991, the play was adapted into a feature film.


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