Composers use distinctively visual images to explore complex ideas. These ideas are what make the visual images distinctive or memorable. In the case of John Misto’s drama, “The Shoe-Horn Sonata,” the atrocities of war, the ability to overcome adversity, the fall of the empire, loyalty and friendship are some of the key themes that are the complex ideas Misto use distinctively visual images to explore and therefore engaging his audience. Misto uses juxtaposition, music, photographic images and symbolism and motifs to explore these ideas. Contrastingly, the composer of another visual text, Betty Jeffrey’s (a POW survivor) diary entry, “A Story of Survival” tells the story of Sister Vivian Bullwinkle, a fellow nurse in the POW camp whom carried a terrible secret. Betty explores similar ideas as Mistro of the atrocities of war and the ability to overcome adversity throughout the diary excerpt. However she explores them differently with the use of rich descriptive techniques in her diary.
This creates distinctively visual images of characters and settings. Both texts use distinctively visual images to explore their ideas. Misto uses photographs to support the actors’, Bridie and Sheila’s, dialogue. These photographs often bring the memories that the two women are recalling to life for the audience. The photographic images are used by Misto to create an additional visual set to support the story being told and acted. On top of this it also acts as a memorial for the women in those situations and provides more information about the horrific events that took place, the historical context and the social and cultural attitudes at the time. These images take the audience to the world that the women had to endure. In act 1, scene 7 Misto uses projected images of women who are emaciated, haggard and impoverished whilst Bridie is explaining how the Japanese used to “see how thin our bodies could get before we started dying.” This links back to the idea of the atrocities of war. John also uses projected images of Singapore and the magnificent British city there before it was attacked and a sign the British government put up in Singapore saying “don’t listen to the rumour” whilst Bridie is describing the evacuation of Singapore and the naivety of the British to the attack. The images of the British city transports the audience to the setting while the image of the sign reinforces the attitude Bridie had developed for the British governments approach to war.
John juxtaposes images of Singapore harbour with burning ships and clouds of smoke to transport the audience back to the setting. Misto uses this image to contrast the city before and after the attack. This allows the audience to understand the sudden shift from security to absolute chaos that was experienced. This explores the idea of the fall of the empire. In contrast to this Betty uses rich descriptive techniques to explore the ideas of the atrocities of war. Jeffrey describes what Vivian was a part of and how she recounted back to them, “…as we all gathered round her she told us what had happened.” She describes the massacre of the army nurses and how Vivian was the only survivor, “The nurses were told to form a line… they were machine-gunned… all were killed outright except Vivian… a bullet passed through her left side…” This creates distinctively visual images through Jeffrey’s use of her rich descriptive techniques. It paints a picture in the audiences minds making the character and setting come to life. The use of projected imagery in Misto’s drama lets the audience connect with characters and witness what they went through thus making it memorable.
Misto uses excerpts from more than a dozen songs from the 1940s to accompany the projected images. The use of song and of instrumental music has several purposes. First, it shows the audience power music can have on your emotions. It adds variety and emotional sub-text to many of the plays scenes. It also places them in their historical context. To explore ideas such as overcoming adversity Misto has uses a soundtrack which starts off distant and gradually gets louder. It is of twenty to thirty men joyfully singing ‘O, Come All Ye Faithful’. This song is played while Bridie is explaining Christmas time. This shows the ability to overcome adversity by being able to find joy when you’re nearly dead. Bridie describes this by saying, “And while we sang, there wasn’t a war.” This also lifts the audience’s spirits. ‘The Blue Danube’ is played on the soundtrack as Sheila and Bridie explain how they were performed to by the Japanese army brass band. This was played to them the day they were released. It signifies a happy time and the end of the war. In contrast, Jeffrey has used rich descriptive technique to explore the idea of overcoming adversity.
Betty goes explains how Vivian survived in the jungle for 10 days with the aid of a stream her and the soldier she was looking for found and a small native settlement. The detail in which Jeffrey describes this creates a visual image in the audience’s head of what Vivian had to go through to survive.
Therefore Misto has used music to create distinctively visual images that explore the idea of overcoming adversity whilst Jeffrey has used rich descriptive technique. To explore the ideas of friendship and loyalty Misto has used symbolism and motifs. The title of the play, “The Shoe-Horn Sonata”, suggests the importance of this motif throughout the play. It symbolises loyalty and friendship that Bridie and Sheila had to each other and as the shoe-horn appears Misto effectively uses the ‘distant sound of crickets’, which highlight that Sheila is hiding something. It later becomes evident that Sheila didn’t trade the shoe-horn for quinine to save Bridie but sold herself. This act creates sympathy for Sheila and demonstrates loyalty between the two women. The shoe-horn also saves Sheila’s life in the South China Sea. It is used as an instrument in the choir to lift their spirits and strengthen their bonds therefore exploring the idea of overcoming adversity. The symbolism of the shoe-horn is represented at the end of the play, as Sheila provides her revelation to Bridie and offers the shoe-horn back to her as a sign of their renewed friendship.
Other items that symbolise their loyalty and friendship include the chop bone and caramel. Jeffrey contrasts this describing the friendship and loyalty that the women in the POW camp and Vivian shared through the rich descriptive technique. She describes how after everyone heard the story of Bullwinkle the topic was strictly forbidden for the duration of the war. Otherwise people could have been killed. Through the use of symbolism Misto has explored the ideas of friendship and loyalty whilst Jeffrey has used the rich descriptive technique to create distinctively visual images of the setting and characters. In conclusion, important elements used by John Misto in his play to create visually distinctive images of complex ideas and make them memorable include the use of projected images, symbolism and motifs, juxtaposition and music. In comparison to Misto, Betty Jeffrey has used rich descriptive technique to explore similar ideas to John and create visually distinctive images of characters and settings so as to engage the audience and make the story effective and memorable.