Contemporary Australian theatre mainly focuses on the reflection of the ‘real’ Australia and communicating to the audience real and modern issues/ideas that respond to the social climate and community. Australian theatre practitioners use various performance styles, techniques and dramatic conventions to help portray their ideas to their audiences and make them feel a particular way to the ideas presented in a play. Without the use of these styles, techniques and conventions it wouldn’t be possible for the practitioners to emphasise their ideas.
Ruby Moon, a mysterious and eerie play written by Matt Cameron explores presentational theatre aspects and elements of absurdism. Cameron has used dramatic forms, performance styles, techniques and conventions such as symbolism, a setting that is everlasting, transformational acting and more. The use of these techniques explores the social and personal issues of suburban paranoia, identity and grief/loss. Cameron uses many elements to portray the ‘fairytale image’. “Ruby Moon is about a little girl who sets off to visit her grandma, just like a fairytale, but never arrives”.
Through this, it shows that Cameron has used elements of other fairytales, but in a distorted manner which challenges the audience’s perception of ‘the perfect story’. Cameron also involves the question of ‘How well do we know our neighbors, especially living in suburbia. ’ “Who would you trust with your child? ” Techniques such as symbolism, metaphors, lighting and sound can support his message of suburbia being the dangerous, eerie place that Cameron portrays it to be The play uses a non- naturalistic style that brings an eerie, strange and disturbed sense to the set.
The set becomes the end of a cul-de-sac know as ‘flaming tree grove’ a symbolic name that creates a visual image of a fiery hell. The set is complete with gutters and storm water drains and a hills hoist sitting centre stage which is an iconic symbol of Australian suburbia. This design emphasis the dead end of ray and Sylvie’s lives as they struggle to deal with the disappearance of their daughter ruby, but aren’t able to move on from their despair, this relates to the Australian social issues that reflects the loss of a child.
Cameron includes props such as a gramophone, telephone, armchair, standing lamp and rocking horse to set a timeless, placeless world that reflects how child abduction is a universal issue that can happen at any time. Ruby Moon’s narrative structure can be described as episodic. This episodic narrative is significant to the character development and to the advancement of the plot through several ways.
The episodic narrative slowly gives away the many paradoxes of Ray and Sylvie, and reveals these two main characters through the archetypal characters such as the spinster, the soldier, the clown, the seductress, the professor, and the teenager. The condensed format of the play allows the audience to grow organically alongside the characters, slowly developing in front of their eyes. It also advances the plot by showing the audience the warped reality of Ray and Sylvie in their own world, and lets them decide different interpretations.
Cameron has used a reference to fairy tales as it suggests the innocence of a childhood in a play where the child is central. How ever fairytales also have a bleak, forbidding and discomforting quality which fits the social issue of child abduction. Fairy tales also have a sense of fantasy and unreality about them which effectively evokes the tenuous grasp that ray and Sylvie have on reality, and also reflects the impact losing a child has on the parents. In a class performance I played the role of Sid craven.
In developing my performance for this character I created the highly physical and theatrical nature of Sids roles as her re-enactments the day of ruby’s disappearance. Through the fast paced delivery, Sids vocalizing of his adoption of several roles such ads the police, ray and Sylvie and the dog and himself, I recognized the heightened theatricality with Cameron employs in order to create the surreal and bizarre tone to the play. Cameron is able to underscore ray and Sylvie’s dislocation with reality and their struggle to come to terms with their despair and grief.
This character also suggests the fear and paranoia which permutes society. This is reflected in his dialogue. Also used the costuming of the blood stained T-shirt , which also adds a sense of paranoia because it may make sid look like he was involved with ruby’s death. Stolen by Jane Harrison, depicts the broken lives of five children; Ruby, Sandy, Anne, Shirley and Jimmy; and in doing so, portrays a myriad of personal experiences of those living in Australian Society.
Harrison does this through the skilful use of dramatic techniques, which are used to convey various personal experiences, such as Sexual Abuse and Personal Identity, and it is through these experiences in which Harrison demonstrates the personal experiences of the Stolen Generation. Ruby is one of the most central characters of the performance, and she is used to portray to the audience the acts of sexual abuse that occurred within Australian Society during 1869 and 1969. Harrsion portrays this abuse and its crippling effects on Ruby’s mental state in the scene Ruby’s Descent into Madness.
This is achieved through a variety of dramatic techniques, particularly, Space, Tension and Sound. As Ruby takes centre stage we see Ruby’s Tormentors looming above her, representing their power over the broken Ruby. . . a series of commands are barked at Ruby, and her movements become frantic and uncontrolled as the commands become sexual and derogative . . . then all that’s left is Ruby clawing at her arm in silence . . . as she re-enters centre stage Ruby stares at the audience as the sound of nails ripping at flesh becomes almost deafening . . . hen the tension is broken as Ruby howls out a barely distinguishable where are you??? . . . Answered with a lonely silence, leaving the audience to experience the loneliness of Ruby as they are forced to confront the horrors that many of the Stolen Generation faced.
Thus Harrison delves into the personal experiences of Sexual Abuse, and conveys these through the use of dramatic techniques. The personal experience of conflicting identity is one that many experience within their life, Harrison takes this concept and manipulates it through Anne and the conflict between her heritage and her family. This conflict is seen in various scenes, but Anns told shes Aboriginal and The Chosen fully explores this idea. In both, space is used to create distinct meaning, as there is a void of empty air between Anne and her adopted parents creating a sense of dislocation or alienation, emphasizing the conflict that Anne faces between who she is and what race she is. The dysfunctional relationship between Anne and her adoptive parents is highlighted further as Mother and Father are looming over Anne, symbolizing white dominance over the stolen generation.
Dialogue is also used to express the experiences of Anne, as her parent’s repeated state we chose you or do you think we made a good choice?. The repetition of such dialogue creates a rift between them and their daughter as it creates a sense of dislocation for the family. Therefore Harrison has utilized the dramatic techniques of space, and dialogue to convey the experiences of Anne’s conflicting identity to the audience. In class we work shopped the scene “unspoken abuse”, which deals with Ruby’s return after her weekend visit with a white family.
In developing a performance of this scene we aimed to emphasize the innocence of the children’s clapping game through the body language, facial expression and voice. At the same time the words of this game allude to the abuse which ruby has experienced while in the care of a white family. “Can you keep a secret and promise not to tell”. We aimed to emphasize ruby’s loss of innocence through her despondent body language and shocked facial expression which contrasts with the joyful exuberance of the other children.
Ruby’s dialogue delivered with out expression suggested her shock, while jimmy’s innocence was emphasized by his line “oh ruby”, reflecting his lack of awareness of what happened to ruby. In conclusion, Stolen has demonstrated how through dramatic techniques, Australian Theatre can stage the personal experiences of the characters. Harrison has aptly demonstrated this by exploring the personal experiences of children from the Stolen Generation and in doing so helps expand the audiences understanding on their lives.