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Good Bugger: Ian Mune on Once on Chunuk Bair

Good Bugger: Ian Mune on Once on Chunuk Bair

Ian Mune tells a story (or three). One is about Corporal Cyril Bassett, the only New Zealander to receive the ultimate Commonwealth award for valour in the face of the enemy at Gallipoli in World War I. “When he got home, he put it in his sock drawer, and people said, ‘Why don’t you show us your Victoria Cross?’ And his answer was, ‘Because all my mates got wooden ones.’”

This peculiarly Kiwi approach to heroism — anti-glory, anti-bullshit, mateship based — sums up for Mune the New Zealand character. “Dry as dust… low-key. I love it.”

Once on Chunuk Bair, the Maurice Shadbolt Anzac classic that Mune is co-directing, depicts one awful day in the 1915 Gallipoli campaign that saw 711 casualties. It’s also an exploration of a myth about the origin of Kiwi identity. Mune wants audiences to leave the theatre moved by the men’s ordeal but also saying about being a Kiwi, “Yes! That’s us!”

Venerable veteran of stage and screen and bloody good bugger, Mune, who turns 73 in August, has devoted much of his life to presenting Kiwis to ourselves. He collaborated with Roger Donaldson on Sleeping Dogs, co-wrote Goodbye Pork Pie and wrote and directed Came a Hot Friday and the film adaption of The End of the Golden Weather. He also acts: most recently in new comedy-horror flick Housebound, TV3 sitcom Sunny Skies and a music video for Aussie alt-rocker Jen Cloher.

He directed Chunuk Bair’s 1982 debut. This time, he decided to present it on a split stage: all characters are present the whole time, but the officers and the lower ranks carry on in parallel, interacting only when the script dictates. Mune directed the officers, co-director Cameron Rhodes took the rank and file.

“Normally you don’t have two people speaking at once because it confuses everyone,” Mune says. “But this is the age of the tweet; we’ve got words like ‘multitasking’. We think differently than we did in 1982.”

The co-directing gig is perfect now that long work hours are out for Mune. Josie, his wife of 50 years, his strictest critic and a writer, has developed health problems that mean she needs his help with everyday activities. “My moviemaking career is over,” he says, “but I can still do acting and theatre work, and I paint and carve, and I can write a bit … Doing a bit of everything is not new for me.”

Once on Chunuk Bair by Maurice Shadbolt: Auckland Theatre Company, Maidment Theatre, June 12-July 5. atc.co.nz

Photos: Stephen Langdon.

Theatre