Radio Silence by Alana Valentine, performed by Mary Rachel Brown. ANZAC Hall, Australian War Memorial, November – December 2004, Fridays to Mondays 11.45am, 12.45pm, 1.45pm.
This 12 minute play is an emotional recreation of the thoughts and feelings of Violet, a WAAF wireless operator stationed at Binbrook in Britain where Australians in Bomber Command were based, as she waits through 8 hours of radio silence. Her English friends say she is "growing a tail". In one of the Lancasters is Marty, who dances clumsily but claims that's the way things are done in Australia and he'll give her more lessons.
Will Marty's plane come on air on schedule? If not, will the crew have been able to parachute out to safety? News comes in of a plane, crashed "with no survivors". Violet has previously been engaged to a pilot who did not survive. She tries to forget him "but I learned to let his face just sit there. To smile at his memory." She tells us how "kissing with a sense of the future cannot be contemplated by either of you."
She picks up the right signal only a short time after radio silence ends, and is ecstatic that she will see Marty again, at least for one more night. Then he will be on ops again, and she will go through radio silence again, and again. "I thought wireless ops would mean I'd be talking to lots of people, but it isn't like that," she says.
Museums are about facts, and plays are fiction. Valentine has imagined a terrible truth about war, and Mary Rachel Brown holds our attention on the imaginary Violet so we come tounderstand the fear and the seeming futility of a war in which she plays an essential role but over which she has no control.
Performed in the shadow of the huge wing of G for George, the strength of Radio Silence is its simplicity, surrounded as it is by the images, sounds and icons of World War II. It says to all of us: Remember what it was really like. Lest we forget.
© Frank McKone M.A., F.A.C.E.
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