Thirteen soldiers acted alongside four professional actors in Daniel Keene's play The Long Way Home, which opened at the Playhouse, Canberra Theatre Centre, on Wednesday. And many audience members have not been able to tell the difference.
The play, a collaboration between Sydney Theatre Company and the Australian Defence Force, was created through an intensive research and development program in which service men and women shared their experiences with Keene, director Stephen Rayne and the actors, which were then turned into a fictional narrative based on fact.
Brigadier Alison Creagh, director-general of the ADF Theatre Project, said the play was intended to assist in recovery for the service men and women involved and inform audiences about what they had been through.
Through interweaving stories, the play conveys the experiences and feelings of soldiers who were wounded, injured or fell ill during ADF operations in Afghanistan, Iraq and East Timor.
One of those soldiers, Corporal Tim Loch, suffered serious injuries from an improvised explosive device while in Afghanistan in 2009. It took him a long time to recover to a stage where his condition was manageable.
''It took me at least two years before I could do some form of running. It was three years before I could pass the basic fitness assessment,'' Loch said.
He had no great interest in theatre and initially declined to take part in The Long Way Home - ''I didn't want to get on stage wearing make-up and all that kind of good jazz'' - but eventually agreed, playing the role of Tom.
''I've found the experience a hell of a lot of fun,'' he said. But there was a serious reason for his taking part: he hoped fellow soldiers who saw it would find it helpful in alerting them to the early warning signs that something serious was afoot and that they needed to seek help. ''Doing something about it can be quite simple.''
Loch also found while ''anyone can rock up and say the lines'', there was a lot to learn from professional actors.
Odile Le Clezio plays Tom's wife and said the actors worked with the soldiers in matters such as voice articulation and movement, but that the play's power came from the non-professionals.
''When they talk, it's the truth, no filter.''
■ The Canberra season for The Long Way Home at the Playhouse, Canberra Theatre Centre, is sold out.