Briefly resurrected, this 2018 NIDA project is a painstakingly produced short work inspired by one of Australia’s enduring aviation mysteries.
On October 21, 1978, Frederick Valentich, a young and not particularly experienced pilot flying a rented Cessna, disappeared over Bass Strait. The manner of his disappearance fuelled fevered speculation at the time, which continues to this day.
In his final messages to Melbourne Air Traffic Control, Valentich reported being repeatedly buzzed by a fast-moving metallic object. Contact was lost soon afterwards.
Did Valentich, as investigators concluded, fall victim to a rookie error (a so-called “graveyard spin” that can lead to a disorientated pilot flying upside down? Or, as some theorised, did he encounter something from another world – a UFO?
Created by Darcy Green, Jackson Used and Elliot Vella, Delta Sierra Juliet (the Cessna’s call-sign) views the incident through the lens of a Cape Otway loner, Reg (played by Timothy Walker), an amateur photographer who inadvertently captured an unidentifiable something with his camera.
Convinced that Valentich’s vanishing is connected to other sightings in the area and to a family tragedy, Reg is consumed by the need to uncover the truth.
Played on a small raised stage dressed to period movie-like detail (an Olivia Rowlands design), Delta Sierra Juliet is relayed to the audience via wireless headphones. Sound designer Daniel Herten’s mix of Walker’s voice, ambient noise and pre-recorded effects and voices (including those of Simon Burke and Jennifer Hagan) creates an immediate and intriguing intimacy.
As Reg descends into tightening spiral of emotion and conjecture, we can’t help but follow.
Sparely written and very short (less than 40 minutes), Delta Sierra Juliet isn’t emotionally demanding but its craftsmanship is notable, its nostalgic appeal considerable, and the show’s Spielbergian climax is a spooky pleasure.