Shoe Horn Sonata
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The Shoe- Horn Sonata
"The Shoe- Horn Sonata" is a play by John Misto that gives an insight into two lives of two female POWs in WW II and is a vector of Misto’s thoughts. It explores the little known and often terrible events associated with female prisoners of war. The play follows a friendship of two women through the war to a point of tension that’s beyond what any normal friendship would have to deal with. Misto engages his audience by using a multitude of mediums to portray his story creating a truly multimedia performance. The playwright challenges the audience to look beyond this to the underlying ideas of survival, loyalty and truth.
The play opens with a scene almost as dramatic as the characters, introducing Bridie. She stands on a spotlight demonstrating the "Kow Tow" bow for respect in the centre of the stage then "claps her hands sternly", immediately revealing the strong assertive nature of her character. The audiences become intrigued, and listen as she straightens difficulty from the Kow Tow, showing she is forceful and feisty but not young. As the "On Air" sign becomes visible the audiences realize she is being interviewed as she informs her audience she had enlisted in WW II following her dad’s footsteps. She tells her audience that her father gave her a Shoe-horn and two pieces of advice,
“Don’t sit on a toilet seat until you have lined it with toilet paper” and
“Never kiss a Pommie on the lips”.
A marching song “Fall in Brother” was heard as images became visible on the screen of “Women Disembarking Singapore”. Misto created a dramatic atmosphere that captured the audience’s attention right through the introduction.
The second scene appeared to be in the motel room where Bridie’s Friend Sheila is introduced. This scene was in the Motel Room, which was used several times in the play being a place where private revelation and growing tension between Bridie and Sheila took place. Tension between the two took place immediately in scene two as,
“Bridie and Sheila stop in the doorway. There is slight but obvious tension between them”,
Silence and body language were used by the two characters to create such tension towards the audiences as it is a emotion which no words can cater for or adequately express.
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This aroused a high sense of drama as the surprising intensity between them is evident as there is silence as they then count in Japanese together; “Ya-Ta” was called out by them as they grabbed the suitcase onto the bed which sounded like a war cry as a Blackout followed.
The play shows a dramatic irony as the audience’s seem to grab clues about the women leading them towards a direction knowing more the actual interviewer as the audiences seem to wonder why Bridie and Sheila lost contact for such a long time as suspense builds up on the audience’s answers. As the recollections of their past takes place the ladies strengths and resilience are revealed. Sheila’s tone seemed to be ‘tense’ as she spoke with,
“Short, Sharp Accents”,
Revealing her character, that has something unfinished in the past. This is evident when Rick, the interviewer takes the interview to a deeper level asking,
“Did the Japs. Ever try to take advantage of you?”
Sheila becomes nervous, not wanting Bridie to realize.
Rick’s role plays an important part as he is unseen and acts as a vehicle for direction of public recollection. Rick’s purpose was to prompt the interview and give the women a purpose to retell their story. He pushes the conversation to places both Bridie and Sheila don’t want to talk about. However it is necessary if their past is to be revealed and adequately resolved. Rick’s questions have them arguing about the women who did sleep with the Japanese men as Sheila supported them saying,
“They had no choice”,
As some had starving children as Bridie strongly opposes,
“To sleep with a Jap? How could you ever live with yourself?”
Misto used such a rhehoritical question to show these opposing views that built the girls tension and gave the audience a hint that there is something very significant which may have happened in the past.
Loyalty is such an underlying theme as each character’s loyalty to their own country is demonstrated in scene four as Bridie defends the Australian Government and shows contempt for the attacks and actions of The British Empire and The British Women in the same time Sheila’s patriotism is shown through,
“One never stops being British, Nor does one want to”,
She is critical of Australia and defends actions of the Empire and British Women who collaborated with the Japanese men,
“They had children to feed!”
Each Character’s strong loyalty of their country acts as a catalyst for arguments and development of tense between the characters. Scene four is such an interesting scene for conflict between the characters as it is in the motel room where they discuss the interview and their cultural differences. The argument between the reaches a crisis point but Bridie backs down as she doesn’t want to fight.
Memoric’s of the camp and shared experiences with the Japanese officer Lipstick Larry brings Bridie and Sheila close again. The playwright employs particular effective techniques to touch the audience and shape reaction to Lipstick Larry’s cruelty. On the screen Sheila was no longer a 65 year old women, she was a frightened but courage’s 15 year old crying out in horror as Lipstick Larry assaults her friend,
Lipstick Larry’s attack on Bridie, after finding the pin she had planted in his loincloth, Sheila’s attempt to intervene to help Bridie are Precursors to the more shocking events which happen later. Bridie’s sense of humors and courage are evident in this scene as is Sheila’s admiration for and devotion to her friend at the time. The audiences are made aware of the brutality of the women’s experiences as the soundtrack continues to carry the sound of Lipstick Larry beating Bridie. Although powerless to prevent the beatings the women are still strong and resilient.
Misto finally reveals Sheila’s secret in a very dramatic and emotional way. The use of a combination of “lightning, songs and voice overs” telling the audience what Sheila did. She had slept with a Japanese man in return for quinine for Bridie who had a severe cause of malaria during the war. The audiences learn this as they hear,
“Crickets in the Background with young Sheila and men speaking in the background.”
This scene closes with young Sheila singing,
“It’s a lovely day tomorrow”.
The use of numerous techniques combined had moved the audience towards a direction as Misto created a truly multi-media performance.
Misto had to juxtapose the deep scenes with lighter ones to keep the audiences engaged.
Bridie- “As I drifted off to sleep, I wondered about the soldier and If Id ever see him again”,
Rick- “And did you?”
Bridie- “Yes, as a matter of fact I did, after the war I married him”.
Ricks purpose was to spark the conversation, not only to have the power to pull the women’s interview in any way but also to symbolize all the other men and women who had complete control over their destiny. The military officials and generals had complete control over their fate but remained unseen. Rick symbolizes this and the great courage the women had to survive under such conditions.
Images of two women POWs projected onto the screen in scene six were described as,
“Stick and Bone dressed in rags”,
Bridie was one of these women and this is the time she had seen the soldier she got married to. The technique effectively conveys the women’s survival as the audience is made to confront the suffering the women endured. Survival was conveyed through the use of voice overs, as at the end of the scene young Sheila and Japanese Guards were heard,
The Guard- “You sing now Sheila, Speedo! Speedo!”
This technique effectively highlights the physical and psychological abuse women had endured throughout their imprisonment.
Misto revealed the Climax of the play as Bridie found out about Sheila’s secret with great drama. The women were quarrelling about why they never stayed in touch for over 50 years, Bridie realize what may have happened,
“Don’t look away, would you have gone to the Japs. For me?”
The contrast between Bridie’s loud angry tone and silence of Sheila proved that. This was very effective in resolving the tension in the play, as the silence aroused a great sense of drama, allowing the audience to absorb what was confirmed. Use of techniques is what creates a dramatic atmosphere to recount of these women.
Although the climax is resolved, it took Bridie a lot to accept what happened,
“You should have let me die.”
But as time goes on they both end up appreciating what has happened to them and acknowledging that it only made them stronger,
“I’d go to the Japs. Again if I had to and I wouldn’t think twice- cause Bridie’s my friend and that’s all there is to it”
Misto used the women’s situation to portray his ideas and the fact you can move on with your life until your past is resolved. This is a dramatic theme that relates to everyone just as Misto’s one does.
John Misto concluded the play by using the “Shoe-Horn” as a symbol of the girl’s story. It symbolizes the strong loyalty of the characters relationships as it reappears, Misto used sound effects of “The distant sound of crickets” highlighting Sheila was hiding something. She traded herself instead of The Shoe-Horn creating sympathy towards Sheila and loyalty between all the other women by the audiences. The Shoe-Horn is a life saving instrument in the South China Sea as Bridie used it to tap Sheila in the water,
“She hit me”,
To a tool to dig graves with, when their hands were bleeding and a metronome in the choir,
“Is that a Shoe-Horn; now we have a Metronome?”
This had lifted their spirits and strengthened their bonds. Above all, the Shoe-Horn was a symbol of what Sheila gave the Japs. when she should have given them that shoehorn. This symbolism is what completed the plays dramatic nature as the Shoe-Horn itself symbolizes what the women went through.
Photographs are a chilling reminder of the truth behind these women’s recounts, and an acknowledgement of their strength. Misto uses photographic images to achieve several things within his play. Firstly the images transport the audience to the world which these women are describing through their dialogue of memories. In Act One, whilst Bridie describes the evacuation of Singapore and the naivety of the British to attack, the images of Singapore allow the audience to understand the magnificence of the city prior to its attack. The photos transport the audience to this setting and validate Bridie’s description of the city and indeed the attitude of British Society at the time. The image of a sign put up by the government at the time saying ‘dont listen to rumour’ reinforces the attitude she developed about the British governments approach to war.
Similar to the use of photographs to enhance and validate a setting, Weir draws visual comparisons between the sparse, lifeless deserts of Australia and those of Egypt. In doing so, suggests that these men’s struggle is thoughtless and insignificant in the greater scheme of things. As well as this many of the Australian scenes are shot with a tighter lens than those in Gallipoli, indicating that once they had entered war they became little more than numbers.
Misto also uses excerpts from more than a dozen songs from the period. The use of song and of instrumental music has several purposes. First it shows in actuality to the audience the soothing and uplifting power of music, which as the audience is informed was a crucial feature of the ‘life support’ system in the camps. This is clearly shown in Act One Scene Seven, when a group of aussie soldiers show up at the womens camp – singing is heard on the soundtrack, the voices of twenty or thirty men singing “O, come all ye faithful”. This is followed by a group of women singing “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen”, and Bridie’s hopeful dialogue “while we sang there wasn’t a war, there was only peace on earth”. This visual element accompanied by images and dialogue add’s emotional sub-text to not only the joyful scenes, but the painful one’s too.
Alternatively the music has been carefully selected in Weir’s film to accompany the scenes and different settings. Quiet or sombre moments at Gallipoli, and the closing credits, feature the Adagio in G minor, by Albanoni. It is slow, dignified orchestral music featuring mainly stringed instruments, and filled with a sort of dread and grieving. It is introduced in the scene where the soldiers are ferried to the beach which is to be the scene of battle, and also when Archie visits Snow who is obviously dying from his wounds. This music is very emotionally charged, and lets us feel some of the fear that would have filled the hearts of the young men.
The ultimate purpose of a drama like this one is to engage the audience in the experiences, this in done in various ways such as lighting. The use of lighting visually
reinforces the harshness of events and highlights the tension that exists between the characters or between the women and the Japanese enemy. When Sheila is describing the boats under attack by the Japanese, the English crew yell “Get up! Stand up! Let the Japanese see your just women and children”. Here Sheila stands, fixed by a very bright spotlight. The use of the light helps recreate the events on the boats for the audience. “Some mothers clutched their children and cried. And we stared into the spotlight”. Not only does this emphasise the terror felt by Sheila but it is symbolic of the harshness and cruelty of the enemy, something Misto has tried to consider visually throughout his play.
Alternatively in Gallipoli, ‘two-shots’ or shots where two heads are shown in close-up range are used generously as a visual feature. In moments throughout the film when there is a need to introduce intensity either through the closeness of friendship, or of conflict, note the use of close ups. When Major Barton and the British Commander discuss the battle about to occur in the Nek, they are in close-up, but also shot from a low angle to convey the superior position they hold, ,making them appear more dramatic. There is a shot at the end of the film when Archie and Frank stand on high ground at Gallipoli and we hear the sound of machine guns and screams.
Both of the two are motionless and shot as silhouettes, which gives the shot an eerie, disturbing feeling. The Shoe-Horn appears throughout the play as a prop, however its deeper meaning is recognised through symbolism. The title of the play first suggests the importance of this motif as a visual element throughout the play. It is a symbol of the loyalty and friendship that the women had to each other, and also helps them to tell the stories they had not spoken of in so many years. In Act One Scene Seven, Sheila alone, goes to a drawer and takes out a shoe-horn, looking at it sadly.
Misto effectively uses the distant sound of crickets to highlight that Sheila is hiding something. It then later becomes evident that Sheila did not trade the Shoe-Horn for Quinine to save Bridie but instead she sold her body. This act of selflessness creates sympathy for Sheila and her actions. In the final scene of the play whilst the women dance to the Blue Danube the stage darkens, except for a very bright spotlight on Bridies Shoe-Horn, this visual contrast represents the healing power of the truth, and the object which has once again bought them together.
Gallipoli includes many images and symbolic ideas which hold a deeper meaning, just like the Shoe-Horn the symbol of running appears from the beginning to the end. This repeated running motif links Archie’s and Frank’s journey together. It is how they meet, and how their ‘journey’ ends. The spirit of the running changes; it starts as a friendly rivalry and ‘game’ in the minds of these young adventurous men, an ends as Frank runs to save Archie and the other soldiers’ lives, and as Archy runs literally for his life – to his death.
(Conclusion – Sum up argument and include sentence below)
Both of these texts are powerfully visual and demonstrate how friendship grows even in the most unlikely situations, through shared experiences and adversity.