This interplay of comedy and realism produces a highly accomplished satire: the play speaks directly to its viewers by portraying recognisable Australian characters; it reveals aberrant social behaviour requiring correction; it makes us laugh, yet sickens us by drawing us into their violence; and it has wider application than the era of its creation. Both ‘a celebration and criticism of Australian society’, The Removalists is far more complex than a play about 1970s police brutality. It digs at the heart of our human relationship with violence. It reveals ‘the beast within’.
The Removalists continues a social realist tradition in theatre that commenced in England in the 1950s with plays as John Osborne’s seminal Look Back in Anger with its archetypal ‘angry young man’ character, an archetype also portrayed on screen by actors such as James Dean, and Marlon Brando in The Wild One. Sometimes referred to as ‘kitchen sink’ dramas, this genre explores social issues and uses realistic situations to reflect perceived problems in society back on itself.
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A revival of the play was staged in 2014 by Brisbane Powerhouse. Teachers’ notes are available and these contain some interesting insights into the play, and a link to a short interview with David Williamson. They are otherwise geared towards Drama students, but some of the acting exercises might allow students to gain further insight into the characters and situations in the play.
Despite the Australian context, The Removalists ..
KATE: (about Kenny) If he’s forced to share it up he’ll most likely sell the lot for a quarter of its replacement value, split the money and drink himself stupid for a week. We’d offer him a reasonable price for his half, but we know he’d refuse. He’s that sort. (p.47)
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The ironic phrase ‘a few love pats’ is used a couple of times in Act Two, by Kenny and by Simmonds. Explain this phrase in the context of the play’s depictions of violence. Also a good opportunity to discuss Australian vernacular and our propensity for understatement.
Despite the Australian context, The Removalists, is able to …
You don’t expect police to behave the way Simmonds and Ross behave. What are our expectations of the police force and their standards of conduct? What happens when these are breached? (Note: there are some insights into these questions in the Galbally/Milte introduction to the play, ‘Police: Authority and Privilege’.)
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SIMMONDS: (to Ross) Stuff the rule book up your arse. That’s the first thing you’ve got to learn. Get me? Life’s got its own rules. (p.32)
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The Removalists portrays a fairly unpleasant domestic scenario. Without going into details, who can relate? (Clearly such a question needs to be handled sensitively; but there are very likely to be students with divorced parents who might offer some insight into the lived experience of coping with a split family arrangement.)