The Floating World Essay - Critical Essays

John Romeril

Critical Context

The Floating World has become an often-performed staple of contemporary Australian theater. Its selection for the 1995 Japan-Australia Cultural Exchange Program saw two major new productions, one in English and one in Japanese, both performed in each country. It is one of the few Australian plays translated into Japanese and has given rise to solid literary criticism.

For John Romeril, The Floating World remains a landmark in his prolific life as a playwright. Writing his first plays as an undergraduate in the late 1960’s, Romeril gained fame beyond Australia with The Floating World. He told a critic how he had thought about the play since 1969, when he wanted to write about the clash of Australian and Japanese culture during World War II. In 1972, on a ship from Singapore to Melbourne, which Romeril credits with providing the model for the cruise liner in the play, he heard a story that he likened to that of Les Harding. Further research of historical accounts of the suffering of Allied prisoners and an active interest in the working-class traditions of Australian vaudeville and popular entertainment gave shape to his play. Romeril personally helped with carpentry for the set design of the first production, committed as he was to the idea of collective theater productions.

Since Romeril won the first Canada-Australia Literary Prize in 1976, interest in The Floating World has remained steady. He has written more than forty original plays, screenplays, and adaptations. His plays like Love Suicides (pr. 1997), Black Cargo (pr. 1991), and The Kelly Dance (pr. 1984, pb. 1986) continue to critically examine contemporary Australian culture. His script for the film One Night the Moon (2001) won a Gold AWGIE (Australian Writers’ Guild) award for its sympathetic treatment of an Aborigine solving a murder mystery.