By CAITLIN CROWLEY
A POWERFUL rock drama inspired by true stories and old letters penned by Darling Downs Vietnam veterans and their families will launch a three-month national tour in Queensland tonight.
“Rolling Thunder Vietnam” was written by Sydney-based journalist Bryce Hallett, who spent time with Downs veterans as part of extensive research for the show, which made its debut in Brisbane back in 2014.
Hallet told the Caller the humanity of the show is the thing he was most proud of and that could only come from being drawn into the lives of veterans and their families.
“I got introduced to a couple of veterans outside Toowoomba and Stanthorpe,” Hallet said.
“You have to earn their trust – they’re speaking about things they’ve never really spoken about.
“That was extremely informative for me and it turned a corner for me – the power of a script to not only be authentic but distill the essence of what disrupted the lives of such young people.”
Hallet said “Rolling Thunder Vietnam” captured the “fragility of youth” and the extraordinary sacrifices of young people caught up in the conflict.
Coupled with epic musical numbers arranged by legendary Australian producer Chong Lim, Hallet said he expected audiences would be “blown away” by the show when it begins in Toowoomba next week.
Classics from the likes of Creedence Clearwater Revival, The Rolling Stones, Curtis Mayfield, Billy Thorpe, Edwin Starr and Paul Simon have been reimagined for a new generation.
“It’s the soundtrack of the Vietnam War – there was such an outpouring of songs and the war, in a way, and the protests, fuelled these amazing songs,” Hallet said.
“The songs are totally timeless and get reawakened by young people and I love that about the show.”
Hallet described the main character “Johnny”, played by original cast member Tom Oliver (pictured above), as a “Queensland country boy and a real larrikin”, with references in the script to the Southern Downs and even its weather conditions.
“Toowoomba is such a military town and when they hear a reference to why is there no rain happening in Warwick, there’s an immediate connection,” Hallet said.
“When you live in a small town, it’s as though everyone is affected because everyone knows somebody – and it just compounds or intensifies that sense of disruption.”
With ANZAC Day just over a week away, Hallet said the show can be “quite cathartic” for veterans, with a special nod to their service during the performance.
“During the ovation…we actually salute the veterans and their family members who may be in the audience,” Hallet said.
“The show is often a way of prising people open to actually talk about their experiences and that’s such a great thing.”
The national tour is also supporting defence charity Soldier On, which provides integrated and holistic support services to Australia’s defence personnel, veterans and their families.
“Rolling Thunder Vietnam” will rock the Empire Theatre stage in Toowoomba this Tuesday April 18, head to the show’s website for tickets and all tour dates.