The Long Way Home is unlike any other work of theatre ever seen in Australia. A collaborative work between the Australian Defence Force and the Sydney Theatre Company, it brings together service men and women and real actors, to tell stories about the realities of life in war and the sometimes difficult journey back home. Private Kyle Harris, of Townsville, is one of the stars of The Long Way Home, and needless to say, he’s never done anything like it before. For the laid-back and friendly Harris, the show represents a rare opportunity to speak out about his experiences while serving, and the effect they had on him.
“I was approached about the show in the middle of last year,” he says. “They explained the idea to me and I thought it was a really good one. Unfortunately, to be a part of the show, you’ve got to be wounded or ill in some way from your experiences with the ADF.” He pauses for a second. “I’m involved because you might say I have some mental injuries.” In the months since, Harris and his fellow soldiers sat down with writer-director Daniel Keene to talk about their experiences. The resulting play is a mixture of real and fictional accounts of war and its effects on the average soldier, both in the field and at home.
While he’s reluctant to talk too much about the stories that come through in the play, Harris tells me that there are several scenes in which the story comes very close to his own experiences. “I’m one of the few people involved who actually gets to relive what happened to me overseas,” he says, “so it’s quite a strange thing to be doing that.” In a large part The Long Way Home concerns post-traumatic stress disorder and its effects. “I guess you might say that the play starts out in darkness, which is the kind of thing you experience when you’re facing those mental injuries,” Harris continues, “but by the end, there’s a bit of light and hopefulness.”
The play attempts to show audiences the things that happen to real men and women in war. For Harris, however, the major theme is that of coming towards the light and seeking help, and he hopes that by telling his story, he might encourage others to do the same. “The play is called Long Way Home because recovery is a long-term investment that you have to make yourself,” he says.“It’s been a great experience for me personally to be involved. I guess I’d say that the greatest thing for me is the thought that I might be able to influence the life of someone who comes along to see the performance. It might open someone’s eyes to the fact that they have a problem, and lead them to think about getting help.”
Harris himself has never done any professional acting, so learning the ropes of the theatre presented something of a challenge. “I’ve never acted professionally, I never really did any acting or drama at school,” he says with a laugh. “I guess the thing about me is that I’m a laid-back and humorous person, so that element of me comes through pretty strongly.” Overall, the experience has been a tremendously positive one for Harris and his fellow service people. “It’s been great to be involved,” he says. “The army people in the show have a lot in common, so we’ve developed a lot of rapport amongst ourselves, but I’ve made friends with the rest of the actors, and everyone at STC, from the admin right through to the people making coffee downstairs.”