Poster of the 1971 Sydney production
|Written by||David Williamson|
The Removalists is a play written by Australian playwright David Williamson in 1971. The main issues the play addresses are violence, specifically domestic violence, and the abuse of power and authority. The story is supposed to be a microcosm of 1970s Australian society.
It was adapted into a Margaret Fink-produced film in 1975, starring Peter Cummins as Simmonds, John Hargreaves as Ross, Kate Fitzpatrick as Kate, Jacki Weaver as Fiona, Martin Harris as Kenny, and Chris Haywood as the Removalist.
The play begins in a police station in a crime-ridden suburb in Melbourne, Australia, where Constable Neville Ross, just out of police training and ready for his first placement, meets old and experienced Sergeant Dan Simmonds. Set in a time of radical change in Australian society, Simmonds is revealed to be very chauvinistic, a great juxtaposition from Ross' nervous character. He is also hesitant to reveal to Simmonds his father's career as coffin maker. While being verbally tested by Simmonds, two women enter the station, Kate Mason and Fiona Carter, who are sisters. Mason is a stuck-up, authoritative woman, who married well, whereas Carter is nervous and timid. Kate reveals that Fiona's husband Kenny has been abusing her, to which Simmonds suggests that Ross take the job. Kate is displeased, strongly disagrees, and demands that Simmonds personally takes their case.
She says that the bruises are on Fiona's back and thigh, which Simmonds inspects personally, and even takes a photograph of (he says that a view by the "medically un-trained eye" would look good on the police report). Before setting out, Fiona tells them that there is furniture which she paid for that needs to be taken before Kenny is apprehended. She suggests taking them while he is at the pub with his friends. Simmonds is keen to assist the women with the removal of the furniture because he sees the possibility of sexual reward.
The next act takes place in Fiona and Kenny's apartment; though Kenny gets home before the furniture removalist arrives. Fiona tries to get him to leave, but he becomes suspicious. Finally, the removalist knocks on the door, which Kenny answers. He becomes agitated when the removalist assures him that he was called to the address. Kenny slams the door on him, but there is another knock, which is revealed to be Simmonds and Ross. Kenny is handcuffed to the door, while Ross and the removalist begin to take the furniture. After repeated verbal abuse from Kenny, Simmonds beats him, to the distress of Fiona.
Kate then arrives. Simmonds picks out from subtle hints in her and Fiona's talk that Kate is a repeat adulterer, which he calls her out on and begins to berate her with. She becomes agitated and leaves, but Simmonds follows her and continues to argue; Fiona follows as well. Meanwhile, Ross uncuffs Kenny to take him to the station, but after lengthy insults, Ross loses it and severely beats Kenny. They run into another room, where violent acts are heard. Ross exits, with signs of blood on him, and looking distressed. Simmonds comes back alone, with the sister having taken a taxi to her new apartment, and finds Ross begging for help, as he believes Kenny to be dead. After inspecting, he agrees, and the two begin distraughtly thinking of suggestions for a justified murder. As they do, Kenny crawls out, severely beaten but barely stable. Ross and Simmonds are alerted to his presence when he lights a cigarette. Ross is relieved, but Simmonds does not agree with the suggestion that he be brought to a hospital; instead, he bargains with Kenny with the lure of a prostitute for the assurance that he would keep the incident quiet. Kenny agrees, but after a few moments, he suddenly falls on the floor and dies. Ross again becomes distressed and agitated, he then punches Simmonds in the hope that it would look as if he assaulted the officers. The play ends with the two policemen desperately punching each other.
There are six characters in the play. There are some unseen characters, however, such as a car salesman, Fiona's Mother and Kenny's baby daughter Sophie.
Simmonds is the police sergeant who abuses his power by threatening the new recruit, Ross. He is a chauvinistic hypocrite who has no respect for women, including his own wife and daughter. He sees to satisfy his sexually perverse needs through the pretext of examining his clients, such as Fiona, for marks "apparent to the medically untrained eye". His clients, usually victims of circumstances, are in desperate need of help.
Through the character Simmonds, Williamson shows that the authority conferred upon society can be exploitative and violent. Williamson demonstrates that should abuse occur in a police station and under the witness of policemen, their victims are rendered powerless. Through the portrayal of the policemen as powerful and somewhat uncontrollable in their nature towards the end of the play, Williamson displays and highlights a serious social issue of the time, therefore making it one of his most remembered works.
Ross is a new recruit who was sent to Simmonds' station after finishing police training. Throughout the play, he is depicted as a naive and inexperienced officer despite coming from an educated background. He is often forced to follow Simmonds constant demands and listen to Simmonds' comments on his own inadequacies. This is shown when Simmonds questions Kenny: "Do you think he's (Ross) lacking in initiative?" Ross comes across as a nervous character in the beginning of the play, but his violent and uncontrollable behaviour is raised through his sudden, unexpected attack on Kenny, which inevitably led to Kenny's death.
Kate Mason is married with three children. The wife of a dentist, she enjoys an upper class lifestyle. Her children attend one of Melbourne's "better" (more exclusive/expensive) schools. Kate forms a feminine mirror to Simmonds. They both like to be in a position of power, which is evident of Kate's controlling of her sister Fiona. Like Simmonds, Kate has been unfaithful to her partner on numerous occasions.
Fiona Carter is Kate's sister. Fiona wants to have a separation from her husband Kenny, after being beaten by him, but does not want a divorce. She is a passive housewife and fits into the stereotypical gender roles of 1970s Australia. She is married to Kenny, and has a baby daughter Sophie. Fiona is insecure, vulnerable and hesitant to leave.
Kenny is depicted as a "larrikin" working-class man, and represents the stereotypical egoistic "Aussie" male of the 1970s. The play's action is instigated by Kenny's beating of his wife Fiona, the reporting of which prompts her visit to Ross and Simmonds's police station, and her move out of their shared home. Kenny is very hot-headed and his vocabulary is vulgar Australian vernacular.
The play's major plot twist occurs in the final minutes when Kenny, despite apparently having recovered from a beating by Ross to the point where he begins to negotiate a deal with the two officers, dies suddenly at mid-conversation from a brain hemorrhage. In the end Kenny seems to be the victim.
The removalist (Rob) is the man who moves the furniture out of Fiona and Kenny's house when they are separating. The Removalist represents the everyman who 'sits on the fence'. His main concern is getting paid for the work, and running off to the next 'job'. He represents another part of Australian society who are passive in times of crisis. The removalist is a curious character in the play. He plays no role in involving himself in helping others. The only thing we know is that he has 'ten thousand dollars' worth of machinery tickin' over there'. The role of the Removalist, as well as being one of the plays namesakes, is to be a symbol of the outside world, society at the time, and is where the plays meaning grows. He watches the bashing without a worry, sometimes seeing humour in it. The fact that he does not react as the audience does, not even helping Kenny when he is begged, shows a stereotypical society of the time: as long as their own work is done what they witness is not worth the time of day, and generally a blind eye is turned when the police are in power, even if what they are doing is wrong. " Sorry mate. I've got a pretty simple philosophy. If there's work I work, if nobody interferes with me then I interfere with nobody."
The play deals with a lot of issues/themes/concerns and expresses these through the 'new age theatre' that David Williamson engages his audiences through. For the first time Australians were seeing themselves on stage. Symbolically David Williamson explores Australian society through the characters, themes and concerns. For example, "The Removalist" represents the everyman who 'sits on the fence'. The use of the 'police force' is interesting too – it is a blackly humorous pun, given the force and violence that the two police characters use.
Violence is a constant theme throughout the play. Words such as 'fuck', 'shit' and 'cunt' are provocative and confronting but also true of the 'ocker' language and mannerisms that Kenny, Ross and Simmonds embody.
The play is set in 1971 – a turbulent time in Australian history and society. In 1956, Melbourne hosted the Olympic Games, and television was launched in Australia. Both these events meant Australians began to see more of the world, and had a different picture of their place in it. In 1962, changes were made enabling the indigenous Aboriginal population to vote. In the same year, the Vietnam War began, which led to an increasing Australian involvement, including the introduction of National service (1964.) In 1964, The Beatles toured Australia. Young girls went crazy, and society changed forever. In 1966, the Australian Labor Party dropped the White Australia policy as part of its platform. 1969 saw Man walk on the moon, and Australian women getting the right to equal pay. In the late 1960s and into the early 1970s, Australian Society was getting more publicly vocal – women's right, indigenous rights, protesting against the Vietnam War, etc. With a string of public trials against corruption in the police force, The Removalists is an examination of Australian society at one of its most turbulent times.
David Williamson aimed to create an Australian identity in international drama. The Removalists uses generic characters to which the Australian audience can relate. Williamson used familiar issues in his society such as corruption and violence in the police force and reflected them in The Removalists.
The play was turned into a 1975 Australian film.
Film rights to the play were bought by Margaret Fink. She originally wanted Roman Polanski to direct and Robert Mitchum to star but this proved impossible. She offered the film to Ted Kotcheff who turned it down; she considered Tim Burstall who worked well with Williamson but decided he was unsuitable after watching Alvin Purple (1973) and did not want to work with Fred Schepisi despite that director's interest. She called Tom Jeffrey for names of directors in his capacity as head of the Producers and Directors Guild of Australia and he expressed his own interest at directing. Fink saw Pastures of the Blue Crane and hired him.
The Australian Film Development Corporation put up half the budget in the form of a two-year loan. The rest of the money came from Ross Woods Productions, Clearing House, TVW7 and Leon Fink Holdings.
Kate Fitzpatrick and Jackie Weaver repeated their stage performances however Don Crosby and Max Phipps, who played the police, were replaced by Peter Cummins and John Hargreaves. The setting of the story was changed from Melbourne to Sydney.
The film was shot at Ajax Studios at Bondi. It was the last movie shot at the studio before it was torn down.
Filming was tense, with the relationship between Fink and Jeffrey disintegrating. Fink ended up firing Jeffrey's wife, Sue Milliken, from her position as production manager.
The music director was Nathan Waks.
The film was not a success at the box office but was critically well received.
- ^ abcAndrew Pike and Ross Cooper, Australian Film 1900–1977: A Guide to Feature Film Production, Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 1998, p 293
- ^ abRod Bishop, "On Time, Under Budget: Richard Brennan", Cinema Papers, July 1974 p201-203
- ^"MARGARET FINK IS ALIVE AND FILMING". The Australian Women's Weekly. National Library of Australia. 14 May 1975. p. 48. Retrieved 7 August 2013.
- ^ abcDavid Stratton, The Last New Wave: The Australian Film Revival, Angus & Robertson, 1980 p118-119
The second Williamson play I chose was The Removalists. This play as well, deals with many Australian attitudes, many of which are very accurate representations of the attitudes held by the majority of Australians.
One of the main issues explored in The Removalists is that of police brutality. Simmonds (the veteran police sergeant) and later Ross (a new recruit) are both excessively violent towards Kenny (Fiona’s husband), whom they eventually kill. There is an attitude of resigned acceptance towards this brutality, as Rob (the removalist), Fiona (who was bashed by Kenny), and Kate (Fiona’s sister) are all present when Simmonds is attacking Kenny, yet none of them attempt to do anything to stop the violence. Kenny realises that Simmonds is going to bash him further when Rob, Fiona, and Kate have left, ‘That sergeant’s gonna beat the shit outa me. He’s mad as a bloody snake.’ Later, when Ross goes berserk and attacks Kenny, Simmonds of course does nothing to stop the fighting, and in fact his first question to Ross is, ‘Did you let him get away?’ The attitude of Australian society at large towards police brutality is accurately portrayed in The Removalists. People are disgusted by police brutality, yet believe that there is little or nothing they can do to stop it. Victims still do not speak out, for fear of further harassment, which has recently been shown by shown by testimony to the Royal Commission into Police Corruption.
Another, perhaps even more important issue explored in The Removalists is that of police corruption. Simmonds is thoroughly corrupt, and by the end of Ross’ first day on the job, Simmonds has already managed to corrupt him as well. He explains to Ross early on that, ‘Something doesn’t have to be very big before it’s too big for us and likewise something doesn’t have to be all that small before it’s not worth worrying about,’ therefore the workload at their particular police station is quite low. Simmonds knows of a local prostitution ring, yet does nothing to bring those involved to justice, ‘Well, there’s a very attractive group of young girls a block or two from the station who, well the fact is they’re very high class call girls.’ Then, when he realises that he and Ross have gone too far in bashing Kenny, he offers to organise free time with these prostitutes for Kenny in exchange for his silence about the bashing. However when Kenny dies from his injuries a short while later, it is Ross who goes berserk, suggesting that ‘Let’s get a shotgun and make it look like suicide. Shoot his bloody head off.’
The attitudes expressed towards the extensive police corruption in The Removalists are quite realistic. After Kenny begs Rob to call in police from another station, the removalist says, ‘You must be mad. Do you think they’d come down and collar their own mates?’ The recent Royal Commission has revealed that police corruption is a widespread and severe problem in Australia. However, until now, attitudes have again been those of resigned acceptance, as people believed that there was little that could be done about corrupt police, as officers stick together and most courts believe the word of a police officer over that of the accused.
Another central issue in The Removalists is that of domestic violence. Williamson portrays issues and attitudes surrounding domestic violence and its demoralising effects on women. For example, Fiona says, ‘It hardly inspires confidence when you’re made love to one minute and bashed up the next.’ Simmonds takes the socially expected attitude of disgust against Kenny, but in reality he has ulterior motives for even aiding Fiona and Kate at all, and he also uses it as an excuse to bash Kenny. However, the play does make the point that although domestic violence is considered unacceptable by most of society, it is still occurring, and little is being done to stop it.
Other important attitudes explored in Williamson’s play are those of law and order, and of anti-authoritarianism. The audience is left wondering how a society can expect law and order when those whose job it is to enforce the law break it themselves on a regular basis. Anti-authoritarian attitudes are also expressed, for example, when Kenny disobeys Simmonds’ orders to shut up even though he knows it will result in further bashing. Such anti-authoritarian attitudes can be in some ways regarded as typically Australian.
The Removalists expresses a number of attitudes about Australian society including those regarding police brutality and corruption, domestic violence, law and order, and anti-authoritarianism. The majority of ideas presented about these are accurate representations of the attitudes held by most Australians, and are very relevant, even today.