The Removalists – Reading Australia
In the play, The Removalists, Williamson uses the Australian context to help dramatize various convincing issues, which are relevant to society.The use of typical colloquial language and idioms in the play are the only features particularly related to the Australian context.Other features such as setting, stagecraft, lighting, and costumes remain common and universal to all society.
Together with the characters of Simmond, Ross, Kate, Kenny, Fiona and the removalist, the central themes of power, authoritarianism, violence, confrontation between sexes and prejudice are well illustrated. It is through The Removalists that Williamson make the audience aware of the corruption in society and contrary within life.
The title of the play, The Removalists, directly and metaphorically suggests the police are “removing” the scandals from society through which abusive power is used. It also implies that the corruption of authorities and power within public forces is being removed from the control of law and order. These ideas of power are enhanced through characters and series of incidents of the play.
The imbalance power relation is directly introduced in the beginning of the play when Simmond was “auditioning” Ross for his duty in the police force. Immediately, Simmond’s relaxed sitting position in contrast with Ross’ uncomfortable and uneasy standing position depicts the different power status between the two. The motion of Simmond “circling” Ross further distinguishes the different amount of power and authority held by each character. Other than the application of stagecraft, physical body language also plays an important part in portraying social issues.
As particularly highlighted by the character of Simmonds, it is common that power and violence, some of which are illegal and invalid, are being overused within the society for various reasons. In the case of Simmonds, he viciously and repulsively beats up Kenny in order to gain power, establish control and obtain his desires and wants. His continuous use of violence and power throughout the play reflects the obsession of power within society. People are often blinded by the sense of power and authority that they simply strive greedily and endlessly for power and neglect the serious possible consequences that may bring in return.
The sudden explosion of violence of Ross on helpless Kenny shows that everyone in society, even those of the least expected, do possess a certain kind of aggressive instinct within his/herself. This idea is enhanced through suspension atmosphere and the imagination of the audience while the violent bloody scene between the two characters occurred off stage. The use of silence and pause after the bashing furthermore creates tension, which highlights the hidden power and ability within people in society such as Ross.
The misuse of authority and abusive violence by officials are prominently examined in The Removalists, mainly through the characters of Sergeant Simmonds and Constable Ross. The two police officers use Kenny as a punching bag in order to work out on their repressions and frustrations, and they can do so because they have come to take their own power as a matter of course. This effectively reflects that there are tremendous prejudices and pressures towards conformity in Australian society, which is reinforced by an implied threat of violence.
Williamson also explores the unbalanced power held between different classes. For instance, as depicted by the character of Kate, who belongs to a wealthy high-class family, tends to have power and control over her sister, Fiona, who belongs to a rather low-class one. This is also reflected through the contrasting costumes wore by the two as Kate is “more expensively dressed and more elegant than her younger sister”, who has “an easy innocent sensuality”. Not only does Kate often manipulate and took advantage of Fiona’s innocence, but Simmond also dominates Fiona and the prostitutes at the brothel. This shows that the ones positioned at the top of the hierarchy tend to hold control and scrutinize those at the bottom of the hierarchy.
The attempt of solving problems with more violence in the end of the play after Kenny’s death shows that part of society is tremendously corrupted by violence. Once a pattern of violence is accepted for any circumstances, it becomes acceptable in all circumstances. As a result, people will subconsciously apply violence in an uncontrollable manner just as “the fight almost takes on the air of frenzied ritual of exorcism”.
Insults, assaults and aggressive use of words can also be seen as violence, as shown by Simmonds, who more often attack others verbally. He speaks of strong, harsh language, often containing swearwords and black irony in his speech to challenge and insult his target opponents. Perhaps in Simmonds’ attitude to his junior, Constable Ross, especially after Kenny’s death, aggression is expressed by the old towards the young. This reflects the deep and bitter resentment felt by the old against the challenge to their moral and institutional power.
Knowledge and experiences are another important aspects, through which power is established. For instance, Kenny uses the knowledge of Kate’s private life and adultery to gain control over Kate. Similarly, the power of the removalist is neither exerted nor influenced in any way for he holds evidences and knowledge of real situation and the illegal violence involved. He is prepared to use this power of knowledge if his status is being threatened. It is also this power of knowledge that Simmond has over Ross, Kate and Fiona’s background that places him at a higher and more powerful status.
The community itself is partially responsible for such corruption in society, as they are the ones who tolerated such to occur. The removalist is a representation of this, as he refuses to help out or get involved into the bloody situation between the police officers and Kenny, instead he allows the scene to happen. The attitude of the removalist being “if nobody interferes with me then I don’t interfere with nobody”. This effectively reflects not only the attitude of the community against illegal acts and conducts but also shows their selfishness and ignorance.
The victims, who are mistreated and encountered unfairness, are also to be blamed as they are often reluctant to complain or take legal action because they fear reprisals of one sort or another. The community simply has a natural unwillingness to cross swords with established power such as the police force. The result of their impotent rage will in turn be expressed in fresh acts of violence on other victims.
Those law-abiding and decent members of the force are another factor that helps to give immunity to criminally violent police. As represented by Constable Ross, the decent members generally failed to take actions necessary to halt their law-breaking colleagues. Instead help the unlawful ones to cover up or even participate in the abusive violence with others. This is further enhanced by the removalist’s rhetorical claim, “Do you think they’d [the police] come down and collar their own mates?”.
Unlike a regular violent incident, police brutality embodies a corruption of the law itself. When the law itself is the culprit, people in the community have no security and no avenue of redress.
On the other hand, in the past people’s view and attitude towards “wife bashing” is rather negative. It is a common saying at the time that ” Never arrest a wife basher if he missus is still warm”. At the level not so much of approval, but rather of unthinking social acceptance, is that the male-female relationship is rested on a frightening sub-stratum of violence. The popular language of sex is violent. The deep repression and frustrations expressed by Sergeant Simmonds in his outburst against Kate and Fiona are endemic in this culture. The society’s code of aggressive masculinity involves the positive isolation of women in their role as sexual objects. This implies an inhuman violence in sexual relationships, against which women are fighting and protesting for in recent years.
The continuous change of power among characters throughout the play effectively suggests that power is mostly created, recreated, depoliticized and routinized within one’s language and action. This is displayed as Simmond’s control over situation fluctuates as Ross and Kate challenges repeatedly challenges his power. Kate mainly gains her power by sharing with Simmond. Her approach of sitting on Simmond’s desk and letting him to place his arm around her, are evidential of the loss and gain of power between individuals in society.
Moreover, Williamson explores subtle ideas in regards to the prejudice and racism in society. This is depicted through insulting language and name-calling to those that are different to the norm in society and with a different ethnic background. For instance, Christians are being named “mick”, which is just as insulting to the extent of calling Afro-Americans “negro”. This reflects that certain unfair and irrational conventions in society are passed on from the past and remains in present days.
Through the character, stagecraft and playwright, Williamson prominently provoked many subtle ideas and social issues. As he examines and manipulates different forms of power in the play, Williamson proficiently convey the idea that “power is a cancer that eats at the heart of all civilized society”. In order to overcome such corruption in societies, the most realistic solutions lie in the fields of education, and more humane, and human-centered urban development. Through The Removalists, Williamson not only highlighted many social issues, but also more importantly, initiated in the field of education to provoke the community of their wrongs and fraud.