Contemporary Australian theatre is a political theatre that works to encapsulate the Australian identity, as well as portray the landscape. It mirrors various aspects of Australian society, allowing audiences to self-reflect on many of Australia’s cultural issues. “Stolen” is a play about the disposition of homeland, culture, identity and theft of aboriginal children from their families. Neighborhood watch presents the experiences of migrants in Australian while portraying individual struggles such as letting go of the dead and depression. Both stolen and neighborhood display common Australian experiences and hardships.
Vicky Van Hout’s production of ‘Stolen’ exhibits a wide array of symbolic elements in order to convey Australian cultural issues of The Stolen Generations. By using games, song and dance to portray individual aboriginal experiences such as unspoken sexual abuse and mental illness, Vicky Van Hout alienates the audience from the confronting scenes occurring onstage. Jane Harrison uses songs and games to explore the trauma of physical and sexual abuse that aboriginal children had suffered at the hands of the authorities. The use of song and childish games in both scenes of ‘Unspoken Abuse’ works to create tension within the scene, meanwhile, the inappropriateness of jovial games within the situation gives the audience a chance to understand the concept of unspoken sexual abuse among the Aboriginal youth. In class, we experimented with different games to explore the experiences of the children. For example, we played ‘piggy-in-the-middle’, using Jimmy and Ruby as the ‘piggies’, for whom a sense of home and belonging would never be a reality. It was easy to get caught up with the momentum of the game and almost forget about the issue, which is the desired outcome of these games in the drama. This Brechtian device creates a sense of detachedness, allowing for audience members to look on at the action without feeling deeply affected by it. The same is achieved through the incorporation of humour during serious scenes, such as Anne humorously struggling to keep her beach chair open while pondering on the significant issue of lost identity. This distancing also gives the audience the chance to understand the individual experiences being conveyed, rather than becoming overwhelmed by sympathy for the character’s hardships. The play is performed by five actors who double and play many other minor characters such as Sandy’s Aunt. This use of doubling reminds the audience that these actors are merely portraying common Aboriginal experiences rather than taking on a specific person’s story. This is further shown when characters break the fourth wall in order to interact with the audience, showing that Stolen is less of a play and more of an accumulation of affecting experiences.
Neighbourhood Watch’ is a social drama that crosses between styles of magical realism and occasional Brechtian techniques, combining this with the use of elements of production; it allows characters to portray personal experiences with their emotions and interactions with one another. This play exhibits stories of many Australian immigrants, meanwhile touching on personal experiences, such as coping with death and overcoming the past. By predominantly setting this play in Australian suburbia, Lally Katz establishes a sense of familiarity between audiences and the characters. This gives audiences the impression that these experiences are common and can or have happened to our very own neighbours. Lally Katz uses a non-linear structure and magical realism in Neighbourhood Watch, with the realistic scenes set in Mary Street unfolding chronologically and juxtaposing with flashback scenes and scenes from Catherine’s imagination. In the flashback scenes, Catherine experiences Ana’s past in Hungary, and in the imagined scenes, Catherine is combining her memories of Martin to construct a fantasy.
These transitions from one context to another can be shown through the use of lighting or sound, for example, a blue light may show a feeling of loneliness or sadness in a character about one situation. This could be seen in the scene where the solider comes to tell Ana in Hungary that her father has died, as this has a huge impact on Ana. Ordinary situations of travelling between countries are enhanced and made engaging for the audience watching this play, as visually pleasing aesthetics take place, for example, a double revolving stage could be used where the stage would spin in alternate directions moving sets and props according to scene changes. This transition would work effectively in blurring the line of reality against dreaming and flashback stages, specifically in scenes of “Hungary swirls around them and disappears” and “The lounge room shifts slightly into Hungary”. Through allowing these transitions to take place, this minimal element is effective in engaging audiences into the storyline and encourages them to participate in sympathising with Ana’s experience and what her situation has taught her.
It is as a result of Australian Contemporary Theatre challenging audiences, that the play’s ‘Stolen’ and “Neighbourhood Watch’ become increasingly impactful through the use of elements of drama, and elements of production. Without these vital components, the everyday experiences of Australians would not be suitable or vivid enough for audience’s to interpret them and take valuable lessons from them.