Question 5: Discuss the dramatic technique in The Removalists.
Ans: The Removalists is a play written by Australian playwright David Williamson. It premiered in July 1971 at Melbourne’s Cafe La Mama with Williamson playing the Removalist. The main issues the play portrays are violence, specifically domestic violence, and the abuse of power and authority. The story is supposed to be a microcosm of 1970s Australian society.
The Removalists is a seemingly conventional realistic play in terms of dramatic technique. A traditional two-act play, it makes use of realistic devices of the proscenium theatre. John Bull feels that the physical space that they enacted their production in had a lot to do with the impact of the play. The actors were never more than five feet from the audience, and often seemed to be about to fall on the first row laps. He says that coupled with the play’s unpredictability and the built in shocks.
The violence may numb an audience forcing them to see it as the artificial construct that it is, while the shock of recognition in terms of dialogue as well as the world referred to makes them identify with the issues raised as well as with the characters. What this means is that even if the violence acts as an alienating device, the identification means that the audience does get involved in the action, emotionally and mentally. This seems to be a marriage of the realistic play and the happening that was in vogue in the sixties and seventies, in which was the attempt to involve the audience directly in the action.
The action consists of what McCallum describes as “a series of little, almost accidental moments”. (p 347) What this should alert us to is that Williamson’s plays are only apparently naturalistic. Williamson is hardly an Ibsen, and we do not mean this pejoratively but state this to highlight his difference. The Removalists is full of gags and one liners, what else do we laugh at? This is straight from the music hall, from the revue. No self-respecting naturalistic dramatist would employ this technique. Williamson is not interested in psychological characterisation and is more than willing to play around with stereotypes and representative characters. The failings of characters are not in their past or their fathers’ but reflective of the society they live in. Hence the criticism about the women’s roles being neither well developed nor original does not detract from the value or impact of the play in any way.
The reversal of action at the end of this play has been complained about. It is startling but realistic. The complaint is thus because of the conventions of the well made play which has traditionally been the vehicle of naturalism. While this play like all Williamson’s early plays is broadly realistic, it uses the conventions of stage naturalism as much as it uses any other convention available to it in order to explore its concerns fully. For example, he is willing to use slides in between Act I and Act 11 which illustrate our idea of happy family life. Thus he is willing to highlight the constructed nature of theatre without any second thought. This is a compromise no naturalistic/realistic writer will allow himself/herself. Williamson’s attempt is to give a convincing and interesting play, to shock the audience, to make them laugh and think. And he does that very well.