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MiNDFOOD Reviews: ‘Stop Girl’ explores the trauma of war journalism

Sheridan Harbridge as Suzie in 'Stop Girl'. Photography: Brett Boardman.

MiNDFOOD Reviews: ‘Stop Girl’ explores the trauma of war journalism

MiNDFOOD Reviews: ‘Stop Girl’ explores the trauma of war journalism

As a foreign correspondent for ABC TV, broadcast journalist Sally Sara reported from some of the most dangerous countries on the planet, including Afghanistan, Iraq and Zimbabwe. After almost 20 years of covering atrocities – from bombings in London to political unrest and terrorist attacks in the Middle East – she returned to Australia where she settled into civilian life in Sydney and currently hosts an ABC radio programme.

But being a highly awarded journalist wasn’t enough for Sara. She decided to write a play about her experiences. Stop Girl is the result.

Suzie, the play’s protagonist, is a foreign correspondent who, as the play begins, is in Afghanistan, finishing her final overseas posting before returning to Sydney. Back home, she attempts to acclimatise to her new/old life. By her side are her longtime friend, Bec and her former Afghan translator, Atal, who is seeking asylum in Australia. It’s not long before we realise that for Suzie – as with many who have lived or fought in conflict zones – adapting to life in a ‘normal’ society is not straightforward.

Deciding which colour cushion to buy for her new couch is no comparison for the life-and-death struggle she witnessed daily in the Middle East. As she wryly says: “If you google ‘freedom’ in Australia, the first word that comes up is ‘Freedom Furniture’.” Watching a school sports carnival with Bec, she hits the deck when a gun goes off, only to learn it is the starter’s pistol, reminiscent of the post-war civilian struggles of the fictional Vietnam vet portrayed in the song ‘Khe Sanh’ (“Car parks make me jumpy”).

The set is deliberately stark and simple in order to stand in for wildly contrasting locales including the aforementioned sports field, Suzie’s apartment, a psychologist’s office and war-torn Kabul. Featuring a plain white floor and background, and a few pieces of furniture, its bareness belies the fact that the audience is convincingly transported to a war zone with no real props – but a punchy script, consummate acting and powerfully effective lighting and sound.

It’s thought that almost 30% of war journalists experience post-traumatic stress disorder, and Suzie is no exception. Her well-meaning mum, best friend and psychologist all try to help with varying levels of success but in the end, she must discover for herself who she is, outside of being an observer and reporter of conflict and death. In Afghanistan, she tells Bec, “I just tried to do my job and stay invisible” but back home, things are different. As Bec reminds her: “Connecting is never a mistake.” In a world where social isolation and loneliness are looming as larger health problems than smoking, drinking or obesity, the message is pertinent.

  • Stop Girl
    Belvoir Theatre
    Until 25 April, 2021
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