The plays we perform often display a frightening view of who we are. How are playwrights able to do this in Ruby Moon and Stolen? The frightening view of who we are is explored by Matt Cameron’s Ruby Moon and Jane Harrison’s Stolen, where the contemporary Australian theatrical practice is used to explore dark issues.
The play Ruby Moon is a response to the current epidemic within Australian society; the fear of losing a child, and is concerned with life in suburbia, and Stolen by Jane Harrison is concerned with Indigenous experience in Australia and the effects of the implementation of the policy of taking children from their families and how, despite all that has been done to them, they have survived. By using innovative approaches in structure and different dramatic forms and conventions such as characterisation, multi-role playing and symbolism to convey their ideas, has allowed these playwrights to display a frightening view of who we are.
Ruby Moon by Matt Cameron is about a little girl who sets off to visit her grandmother, just like a fairytale, but never arrives. It is the story of Little Red Riding Hood retold, exposing what people do when they suffer an enormous loss, like the loss of a child. It is both placeless and timeless, a theatrical device used in order for an audience to realize its universality. It travels deep into the fears of our time by illustrating issues like child abduction and pedophilia which arouse such potent emotions in families and communities. The play is able to re-enact the dire “pervasive fear and mistrust that exists… here Australia is at the moment” through the employment of the gothic and absurd through a fairy tale like structure, characterisation, black humour, multi-role playing, props and symbolism, and lighting. Ruby Moon displays a frightening view of who we are through the employment of presentational theatre acting where Cameron is able to then within his theatre, give emotion to the issue that we detachedly interact with every day, and allow us to see the grief, anger and psychotic paranoia behind these stories, which are emphasized in his other styles used.
The style which Cameron employs, that is Gothicism and Absurdism, presents the bizarre and macabre culture of Australian society which is fixated upon fairy tales gone wrong, “it begins with a fairy tale” and the paranoia and obsession that is a repercussion of this. This is then shown through the characterization of Ray and Sylvie, who voice their mistrust through their absurdist cyclical questioning and through their guilt, highlight the unforgiving and anonymous Australian landscape; where both Ray and Sylvie come to question those living closest to them, as well as one another.
Thus through these styles, Cameron is able to communicate the nightmarish logic in the situation, where we begin to question with the characters; who and what is real in this world, causing a sense of paranoia amongst us. The play incorporates black humour through actors playing multiple roles, all which seem to be strange, changing the perception of the audience through the way the story is told. The fact that everyone appears to be guilty and most obviously through the unusual things that continue to happen throughout the play, contribute to the fear created engaging the audience as a reflection.
Through the theatrical conceit of only two actors playing such a range of characters, one begins to question if all are completely separate. Major characters of Ray and Sylvie are both weakened by the loss of their child, and both are witnesses to the effect of grief in their lives, Ray’s integrity is mistrusted by the audience as we witness the progression of the play, and Sylvie becomes increasingly unstable and psychotic as her grief continues in a cyclical pattern. The minor characters throughout the play, Veronica Vale, Dulcie Doily, Sid Craven etc, all follow the archetype method of Cameron is their creation.
For example, Sid Craven comes to represent paedophilia, or at least the paranoia of its existence, and through the dark humour presented in the dialogue between Sylvie, “we have to dig up the church,” and Ray, “isn’t it enough that we just don’t attend? ” juxtaposing with the mood, which causes a break in the darkness allowing the audience to think clearly. Thus through the use of black humour and characterisation, Cameron is able to present a frightening view of who we are. The set within Ruby Moon contains a large amount of props that sustain both the environment of the play but also convey the underlying messages of the play.
As the play is focused on the identity of the suburbia and the outside world, the curtains in scene 5 are utilized by Ray and Sylvie to suggest that perhaps the curtains they use to help keep the evils of the outside world at bay are actually keeping their own contained. Analogously, the mannequin and Ruby’s dress are both strong images throughout the play. Ruby’s dress is metamorphic, and occurs to represent many things throughout the play, “if you walk down the street in a little red dress…” symbolizing childhood innocence and an object of sexual desire when worn by Sylvie.
The mannequin or ‘Ruby Doll’ comes to represent the unveiling of the mystery behind Ruby’s disappearance, thus every part of the doll that they receive denotes the further unveiling of the unknown, yet because the head of Ruby continues to be missing – the whereabouts of Ruby still remains unknown. The paranoia and fear of losing a child implicated here contradicts with the Australian’s ideal of the suburbia which is meant to be a happy and safe place where children can be raised.
Lighting is used throughout the play to implicate a sense of paranoia amongst the audience and build suspense, allowing the audience to empathise with the characters within the play. In scene three, Sid is in shadows occasionally flicking on the light raising fear and suspicion in Sylvie, and during his re-enactment of the detective he move into Sylvie’s personal space creating a claustrophobic mood and showing the detective suspicions. When Sylvie wanted answers from Sid she would move closer to him, but he would evade her by moving into shadows suggesting he had something to hide, creating suspicion.
The audience shares Sylvie’s suspicion and paranoia as she is desperate after losing her child. Stolen by Jane Harrison was written to “honour the experiences of those who had been stolen and for the play to resonate on an emotional level with its audience. ” The play retells stories of five Indigenous individuals of the Stolen Generation, and examines the struggles and concerns of Aboriginal Australians since white settlement in Australia. The bicentennial celebrations had Aboriginal Australians questioning what exactly they were celebrating. Royal commissions into black deaths in custody and the stolen generation also set the tone.
There was a move towards reconciliation although the conservative federal governments’ was reluctant to say ‘sorry’. Earlier land rights decisions in the high court also added to indigenous relations being a major issue in the late 20th century. Stolen deals with these issues through theatrical conventions and techniques, i. e. traditional storytelling, collage, multi role acting, and symbolism. Jane Harrison employs a traditional storytelling form due to its indigenously enthused context, and an episodic structure to impose a frightening view of who we are.
In Stolen, five actors portray the five principal characters respectively, each representing a story common among Aboriginal people. Anne, Sandy, Shirley, Ruby and Jimmy each present their journey by a different structure – a song, a letter, the line-up for example – which is repeated several times to show the changing circumstances and to develop individual narratives. This reflects the practice of traditional storytelling methods which have a repetitive song/dance structure. Such use of repetition not only helps in the learning of the story but it highlights the subtle changes on understanding that may occur over time.
The play is also episodic in that it does not follow any obvious chronological order. The characters move back and forward in time, sometimes being their young child in the children’s home and other times, adults. As the play progresses; an accumulation of affecting experiences towers giving an emotional resonance to a political issue and the frightening view of who we are as an Australian society is further imposed on us. Stolen demonstrates a frightening view of who we are through the utilization of multi-role playing. The play is performed by 5 actors who, in addition to the roles – Anne, Sandy, Shirley, Jimmy and Ruby, take on the following roles (sometimes merely as voices offstage): * Sandy’s mum, cousin, aunt, aunty, uncle * Anne’s adopted father and mother * Jimmy’s mother, Nancy Wajurri * Voices of authority, angry voice – vulgarity SCENE RACIST INSULTS between Jimmy and voice * “Voice: [off] dirty nig-nog depending on govt. handouts…bloody nigger, drinking away your dole cheque… Jimmy: Genocidal maniac, killing and raping and stealing our women and children…” Expressing the anguish and pain endured in victims of the policy and injustice imposed upon the Stolen Generation * Retelling of the immeasurable injustice done to the Indigenous Australians and stereotyping them to beings that result to acts as an after effect of the policy * Distances audience from the play so they can picture the message that underpins the play * Gets audience to reflect on the actions of Australia historically and how frightening we are
Stolen demonstrates a frightening view of who we are through the utilisation of multi-role playing. The play is performed by five actors who, in addition to the roles, Annie, Sandy, Shirley, Jimmy and Ruby, take on the following roles which are sometimes merely voices offstage: Sandy’s mum, cousin, aunt, uncle, Anne’s adopted father and mother, Jimmy’s mother Nancy Wajurri, and the voices of authority which in the scene ‘Racist Insults’ present to us a frightening view of who we are.
The vulgarity in the conversation between Jimmy and the voice, “Voice: [off] dirty nig-nog depending on government handouts…bloody nigger, drinking away your dole cheque…Jimmy: Genocidal maniac, killing and raping and stealing our women and children…” expresses the anguish and pain endured in victims of the policy and the injustice imposed upon the Stolen Generation. It is a retelling of the immeasurable injustice done to the Indigenous Australians and stereotyping them to beings that result to acts as an after-effect of the policy.
The inclusion of multi-role playing distances the audience from the play so that they can picture the message that underpins the play and coerces the audience to reflect on the actions of Australia historically and how frightening we are. Symbolism was extensively used throughout Stolen to portray a frightening view of who we are. * Filing cabinet – represent bureaucratic letters and documents that controlled and regimented the children’s lives, but could not be accessed by them. Even today some people have not seen w/e controlled their childhoods * Beds – signified the institutions where the children were kept.
There was a regimented way to make them, and a strict inventory of linen and bed clothes. The beds were moved about the performance space, to symbolize how the children were not permitted to settle or rest. Our beds should be places of security and relaxation, but in Stolen they were charged with uncertainty, fear and institutionalization. * Ringing of bell – symbolized strict authority in the homes and missions, summoning the children to classes, meals or to line up for inspections. In the original production the bell was rung to call children to be viewed for prospective adoption or a weekend visit with a white family.
For some children this led to abuse * Suitcases – symbol with each character carrying a suitcase to represent their journey and the ‘baggage’ of their lives, their history and their stories. At the beginning of the performance each actor entered with a suitcase. At the end, once the set had been dismantled, they exited, again carrying a suitcase to signify that their journey was not yet finished * Allows audience to question the reason behind it and unravel the frightening view of who we are Symbolism was extensively used thought Stolen to portray a frightening view of who we are.
This is evident in the props utilised in the production consisting of the filing cabinet, beds and the suitcases. In the Sydney Theatre Workshop, they used a filing cabinet as a quick scene transition, this represents the bureaucratic letter and documents that controlled and regimented the children’s lives, but could not be accessed by them. In the workshop, they only used on bed which was moved around the stage, the beds signified the institutions where the children were kept. There was a regimented way to make them, and a strict inventory of linen and bed clothes.
The bed was moved about the performance space to symbolise how the children were not permitted to settle or rest. Our beds should be places of security and relaxation, but in Stolen they were charged with uncertainty, fear and institutionalisation. Although the workshop did not emphasise the suitcases, it acted as a symbol with each character carrying suitcase to represent their journey and the ‘baggage’ of their lives, their history and their story. These props used allow us, as the audience, to question the reason behind it and unravel the frightening view of who we are.