The Play

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

Violence dominates The Removalists but does so in a way that borders on the comic and the absurd. Act 1 opens in a Melbourne police substation, which is described as “having an air of [decrepit] inefficiency.” Ross, an enthusiastic rookie policeman, has just reported for his first day of duty, only to meet a jaded veteran, Sergeant Simmonds, who is to be his superior and mentor. At first, the dialogue appears aimless, but a pattern soon forms as the sergeant explains to his new assistant the essence of police work: to do as little as possible but always to maintain the delicate balance on which control rests. Wanting to respond in a pleasing manner, the young man tells Simmonds that “you’ve got to be trained for all eventualities in this rapidly changing world.” To this Simmonds replies, “Nothing changes in this world, boy.” The sergeant then relates, with obvious pleasure, a story about another idealistic rookie who made himself ridiculous when he mistook some innocent fun for a gang rape; this recollection is only one among several hints that brutality and violence surround the substation, indeed permeate all aspects of life.

Just as their exchange begins to seem tedious, two young women interrupt. Fiona, accompanied by her sister Kate, has come to the police station to report her husband, who beat her the previous night for not emptying the kitchen garbage. Simmonds handles the complaint with mock seriousness, stating pompously, “Yes. It’s pretty terrifying when the family unit becomes a seat of violence.” To prove his concern, he asks Fiona to expose her bruises, which he inspects, as the stage directions say, “slowly and lasciviously”; he then tells Ross to photograph the bruises for evidence. By now he has, through his lechery, created a sexual tension between himself and the victim’s sister, who is enjoying the other...

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Dramatic Devices

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

In spite of its absurdist elements, The Removalists is a realistic play structurally. This quality heightens the action, so that what takes place—the senseless, fatal beating of a man—appears to be altogether natural within the course of events. Even the violent action occurs for the most part onstage. If the play had forsaken the dramatic devices of realistic setting, ordinary characters, comedy, and everyday language, it would have lost much of its impact as a modern allegory pointing up the ubiquity and consequences of violence.

The two locales, the police station and the couple’s apartment, are both drab and colorless, and they serve effectively as backgrounds to lives that are just the same. However, all the characters emerge as individuals in their own right who show fear, longing, weakness, strength, foolish pride, and other qualities of everyday people. There is, for example, the removalist’s inflated attitude toward his work, as he reminds everyone repeatedly that his time is important: After all, he has “ten thousand dollars worth of machinery tickin’ over out there.” Similarly, Sergeant Simmonds displays his hypocrisy over sexual matters, Kate her pretentiousness, and Ross his fear of discovering an evil force that will destroy his idealism.

The well-paced, sharply etched dialogue—complete with one-liners, obscenity, clever insults, and sexual innuendoes—helps to carry the theme, elaborate on it, and...

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(Great Characters in Literature)

Sources for Further Study

Carroll, Dennis. “David Williamson.” In Australian Contemporary Drama. Rev. ed. Sydney, Australia: Currency Press, 1995.

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

Holloway, Peter, ed. Contemporary Australian Drama: Perspectives Since 1955. Sydney, Australia: Currency Press, 1987.

Kiernan, Brian. “The Games People Play: The Development of David Williamson.” Southerly 35 (1975): 315-329.

McCallum, John. “A New Map for Australia: The Plays of David Williamson.” Australian Literary Studies, May, 1984.

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

Rees, Leslie. The Making of Australian Drama. Sydney, Australia: Angus & Robertson, 1973.

Williamson, David. Interview with Ray Willbanks. Antipodes 2 (Winter, 1988): 104-106.