The Play

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

Act 1 of Travelling North consists of thirteen scenes, act 2 of twenty scenes. The fluid action moves between Melbourne in the southern part of Australia and a tropical area on the Queensland coast, two thousand miles north. Through its use of cinemalike devices, the action not only covers a wide landscape but also probes deeply into varied emotional territories.

The plot revolves around Frances, a woman in her mid-fifties, who falls in love with Frank, a rather dashing seventy-year-old widower. Frances, a survivor of the Depression during the 1930’s and a broken marriage, considers her life a failure, believing that she neither gave her two daughters a good home nor fulfilled her own expectations. So when Frank offers romance amid the eternal sunshine of northern Australia’s coast, she sets out to claim the happiness that has so long eluded her and for which she has not many years left to seek.

Frank, though, proves to be a difficult man: He is opinionated, authoritative, and demanding. Before long, as her daughters had predicted, he becomes ill, and Frances finds herself acting as a nurse to a crotchety old man obsessed with physical symptoms and medications. In scenes played against a warm, tropical splendor, Frank refuses to accept the truth of his physical degeneration and the chilling reality of his oncoming death. Although trapped in a relationship that has withered, Frances refuses to shirk what she sees as her responsibilities to Frank, an attitude arising from the guilt she still harbors over having failed her daughters when they were young.

The aging lovers’ children also figure in the play’s action and provide resonance for the...

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Travelling North Dramatic Devices

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

Although Travelling North is realistic in its presentation of characters, dialogue, and action, the play still has a fragmented air. This quality stems from the short scenes—some of them only a few moments long—that fit together like pieces of a puzzle. Intended to be produced without breaks between the scenes, the play employs a unit setting so that the action can flow from one part of the stage to another. Simple but exact decor and furnishings suggest the locale, whether it be a cottage in Queensland or a home in Melbourne. Lighting plays an important part as well, especially in the exterior scenes. For example, stage directions for the tropical scenes require an “atmosphere” that is “warm and tropical” or full of “light and brightness,” whereas those set in the harsher climate of Melbourne are directed to carry a “cold and wintry” atmosphere. At another point, the stage directions say, “We know immediately we are near the tropics by the changes in lighting and scenery.”

Like the scenery and lighting, sound effects—especially music—serve as an integral part of the play’s overall development. The script calls specifically for the music of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Vivaldi, Franz Schubert, and so on; not simply pretty sounds in the background, the music underscores the characters’ emotions and adds subtly to the overall thematic intent.

In addition to utilizing fully the stage’s technical...

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Travelling North Bibliography

(Great Characters in Literature)

Sources for Further Study

Fitzpatrick, Peter. Williamson. North Ryde, Australia: Methuen, 1987.

Kiernan, Brian. “Comic-Satiric-Realism: David Williamson’s Plays Since The Department.” Southerly 46 (March, 1986): 3-18.

Kiernan, Brian. David Williamson: A Writer’s Career. Sydney, Australia: Currency, 1996.

McCallum, John. “A New Map of Australia: The Plays of David Williamson.” Australian Literary Studies 11 (May, 1984): 342-354.

Moe, Christian H. “David Williamson.” In Contemporary Dramatists. 6th ed. Detroit: St. James, 1999.

Parsons, Philip. “This World and the Next.” London Magazine 20 (August/September, 1980): 121-126.