For centuries, drama has acted as a mirror for culture and society. Through the power of dramatic form, we have been invited to be entertained yet also engaged in the social concerns, which can both be provocative and surprising. Both ‘Stolen’ by Jane Harrison and ‘A Beautiful Life’ by Michael Futcher and Helen Howard address contemporary social concerns and issues in Australian society. Stolen employs dramatic styles, techniques and conventions to portray the social issues caused by the stolen generation. On the other hand, A Beautiful Life again employs dramatic styles, techniques and conventions to portray the unforgettable story of a refugee family who escaped the hardships of Tehran Jail, only to find themselves suffering racism and injustice in the High Court of Australia.
Stolen addresses the Stolen Generation and the social concerns surrounding the impact of individuals and the Indigenous community. Harrison splits up the action between five diverse characters, tracing their independent stories from childhood to adulthood. We have the sexually and physically abused (Ruby); the hopeful turned hopeless (Jimmy); the stolen child who in turn has her children stolen from her (Shirley), the lost (Sandy) and the ‘black’ girl in a ‘white’ man’s world (Anne). In a workshop of the opening scene, ‘Arriving’ (pg. 1) in which the characters speak in the ‘stream of conscious style’ the difference in what each actor produced to portray their particular character was very noticeable. Harrison’s use of a wide breadth of characters is effective in reflecting the broad spectrum of social concerns the Stolen Generation faced: physical, sexual and mental abuse, ‘I promised not to tell’ (Ruby: pg. 8); high suicide and depression rates, ‘I can’t fight’ (Jimmy: pg. 34); cultural loss, ‘Who do you think you are?’ (Voices: 29); loss of belonging, ‘Always on the run’ (Sandy: pg. 3) and loss of family, ‘This time I’m going to hold my baby and never let go’ (Shirley: 2).
Stolen uses absurdist techniques, including a non-linear and episodic plot structure and undefined place and time to convey the disconnection and lost culture that has resulted within the Indigenous community as a result of the Stolen Generation. The dialogue closely follows the conventions of spoken language creating a sense of realism to the audience, to emphasis the fact that these events did happen and cannot be reversed. One of the most typical techniques with Stolen is the use of monologues.
The experiences of each child are portrayed through these monologues – the delivery indicates how these experiences are traumatic and a fundamental part of their psyche that is not easily spoken about through normal conversation. Through a class workshop I was able to watch a class mate act Jimmy’s monologue ‘Racist Insults'(pg. 33-34). I found this scene particularly engaging because we are not only watching a young man end his life, but we watch a fraction of how our ‘White Australians’ treated the Indigenous. The audience gets a first hand view of the racism and abuse copped by most Indigenous Australians, this scene shines a direct light on the hardships we put forward onto our Indigenous and why a whole culture is missing from our nation.
While Stolen deals with how we treat our Indigenous, A Beautiful Life cover the social issues surrounding refugees and the ignorance of Australian people regarding human rights. This play covers the period when 5000 Mojahedin freedom fighters were killed by Iran’s government regime. The play interweaves the experiences of Hamid: his torture in jail in Tehran and witnessing human rights abuses before making a dramatic escape to Australia; and his arrest and trial following a protest outside of the Iranian Embassy in Canberra in 1992. Hamid, his wife Jhila and their son Amir – who represent refugee culture – are represented in the court by Australian lawyers Brendon O’Sullivan and Stephanie James.
Both present the Australian culture as being ignorant ‘bloody Arabs’ (pg. 21), racist ‘a bunch of Muslim fanatics’ (pg. 7) and stereotypical ‘ranting bloody slogans to Allah’ (pg. 7). Futcher and Howard emphasis the un-empathetic nature, stereotypical and racist culture of Australians through Stephanie and Brendan. Amir (Hamid’s son) makes the perfect narrator as he grows and develops through the play from a young Iranian boy into a 20 year old Iranian/Australian who can believable comment on both countries. The character of Amir has humour ‘She’s Irish, she can get really angry’ (pg. 41), compassion, ‘It’s all right, Mum’ (pg.11) and a desire to tell the story of his Iranian/Australian family, ‘What about the Boltons, Dad? (pg. 13).
Brechtian techniques such as the used of a non-linear and episodic storyline, as well as historification and the breaking of the forth wall (through Amir) give insight into contrasting cultures and systems of justice. The use of performance styles, such as physical theatre, engage the audience so that the play has heighten reality: allowing the audience to follow Hamid, through the racism, prejudice and his lack of human rights. The use of dramatic dialogue allows the characters in A Beautiful Life, persuade, argue, threaten, provoke and inspire the audience.
Language techniques include the use of the Farsi accent or clipped tone to lend authenticity to the Iranian feel of the text and of course to show the reactions of ‘Australians’ – represented by Brendan and Stephanie – when the characters speak their mother tongue. I first encountered the use of the accent when acting the character of Jhila in _SCENE FIVE,_ I feel as an actor that use of accent does add authenticity and a sense of realism throughout the scenes making it easier for the audience to connect with the character rather than the actor.
Through the power of dramatic form, we have been invited to be entertained yet also engage in the social concerns explored throughout Stolen and A Beautiful Life. Through the performance of scenes in workshop activities and in-depth study of both texts, I have come to understand the styles, form and conventions Harrison, Futcher and Howard use to convey their points of view. Whilst Stolen uses absurdism to portray the social issues caused by the stolen generation, A Beautiful Life uses Brechtian techniques to portray the unforgettable story of a refugee family who escaped the hardships of the pain and suffering caused by the Stolen Generation on both the personal and societal side Tehran Jail, only to find themselves suffering racism and injustice in the High Court of Australia. On a final note both composers worked well using dramatic forms, techniques and conventions to engage the audience to understand the social concerns explored in the plays.