Critical Context

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

David Williamson is first and foremost an Australian dramatist who, as he himself said about his work, records the life of his particular “tribe,” which happens to be ordinary, modern, urban Australians. However, as Williamson noted in an interview, the best of that “tribal writing” transcends the particular tribe and becomes universal. To an extent, Travelling North does so more effectively than some of Williamson’s other plays, which often depend on the Australian context so fully that they at times remain somewhat inaccessible to audiences abroad.

Travelling North also marks a change in Williamson’s dramatic technique. In the past his work reflected the dictates of the well-made play, the action unfolding through fully developed scenes played out in a single set, rather than through fragments moving back and forth in a variety of locales. This technique, with which he experimented so successfully in Travelling North, he puts to use as well in his next two plays, The Perfectionist (pr. 1982) and Emerald City (pr. 1987). Williamson rounded out the twentieth century with a number of well-received plays, including Money and Friends (pr., pb. 1992), Brilliant Lies (pr., pb. 1993), Dead White Males (pr., pb. 1995), and Corporate Vibes (pr., pb. 1999).

Critics have noted that Travelling North is Williamson’s most “religious” play in that it addresses matters far more spiritual than a particular tribe’s social and political affairs. While an earlier work such as Don’s Party (pr. 1971) concerns itself with social mores and inherently Australian political matters, Travelling North looks at life more fully, examines emotions and relationships more deeply, and tackles questions that are in no way peculiarly Australian but that are posed by all members of the human tribe.