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THE SHOEHORN SONATA:

Module A Elective 2
Sally Pratt

Distinctly Visual Note: Initially, it is helpful to show a couple of scenes


from Paradise Road as students are often unfamiliar
The Shoehorn Sonata has a new focus distinctly visual
with the historical aspects of this play.
and is no longer a close study of text. Therefore, it
requires a linking between the visual (textual features)
interpretation (meaning) and effect (feelings, a deepened
Preliminary Activities
understanding, awareness). To assist students in their understanding of how the
visual shapes meaning and response, it is useful to:
The module states that in their responding and
composing, students: Present them with an advertisement or propaganda
poster that includes some written text.
Explore the ways the images we see and/or visualise in Discuss:
texts are created.
Consider how the forms and language create these purpose
images, affect interpretation and shape meaning. audience * explore the
relationship. between composer ways images
In The Shoehorn Sonata therefore, the consideration of
the visual goes beyond the projected slides. A drama text and responder we see in
is a visual literary form. The elements of characterisation, context texts are
dialogue, gesture, dance, music, sound effects, stage whose interests are being served created.
directions, dramatic imagery, lighting, symbolism and how are particular groups
sets are all deliberate constructions that shape the * consider how
represented? (eg women)
distinctly visual and affect an audiences response. By the forms
visualising, an audience not only sees what is occurring is the image stereotyped?
and language
on stage, but experiences a range of emotions fear, what does the image convey
affect
anger, pity, joy, admiration and so on. Through his visual about the world from which it
comes? interpretation
composition, Misto creates and manipulates verbal and
visual images which challenge/reinforce an audiences how is the image constructed? and shape
beliefs and values ie affects interpretation and shapes meaning
meaning. (Module statement)
Then have students change the above by altering the
Overview of Play audience, purpose and impact. To achieve this, they
The play centres on the relationship between Sheila may add other images, manipulate the image, alter
and Bridie, two elderly women, who experienced the the language or delete aspects of the original. Then
trauma of a POW camp in Malaya and who have had students should explain their new image and how the
no contact since the end of the war. Bridies brashness meaning was created.
and confidence create a strong physical presence. Sheila OR
is a more remote and mysterious character and seems You have been hired as a public relations
composed and collected. However, she is still governed consultant by one of the following organisations.
by her memories. John Misto, through the visual medium They want to promote an image that appeals
of his play, explores their relationship, the effects of the to young people. Your task is to design an
past and the intimacy, dignity and triumph that occur advertisement/poster/pamphlet which does
when both women acknowledge their pasts. John Misto this. You must have as your main textual feature,
also examines the importance of the governments and a visual image, but you must also use words to
societys acknowledgement of events that occurred in support it.
our history and the fact that we cannot move on until Attach to your work an explanation of how the
we declare our past. A good analogy is the recent Sorry textual features you have used, create the image
Day. The play is about the loss of harmony and harmony (100 words). Here you may consider colour, style
restored reconciliation. This is reflected in the title of language, arrangement of the text, elements such
of the play and the dancing in the final scene. The final as contrast, lighting, positioning of the image etc.
words in the play are joy and triumph and survival.

mETAphor Issue 1, 2009 37


THE SHOEHORN SONATA:
Module A Elective 2
Possible organisations: establishing the reality of the past and conveying the power
of memory.
 The Lawn Bowls' Association
 The Gardening Society The television set is also effective in reinforcing the
images Misto creates in the play of women whose lives
 Genealogical Society have been controlled by men much of their lives. Rick,
 The Heritage Association the disembodied voice, is able to call the shots and
 The Art Gallery Support Group control the interview. The television set, by its very
nature, controls the characters responses, just as they
 One of your choice eg a charity group were controlled by the Japanese and Sheilas and Bridies
respective governments. Just as they were exposed to
How the sets contribute to the visual danger in the camp, they are exposed here too and must
There are two sets the motel room and the television always be wary of Ricks questions and motives.
studio. Each is impersonal and comparatively bare,
The motel room allows Bridie and Sheila private time away
providing a neutral place for the memories to unfold,
from the studio. This set is sterile and without character, like
allowing Misto to shape his images more potently
all motel rooms. This enables Misto to focus the audience
through dramatic conventions. The set plays an
on the characters and their reunion. Because this set lacks
important role in The Shoehorn Sonata. It does this in
warmth, the audience is more aware of the tension between
several ways. In particular, it defines the plays time and
Bridie and Sheila and the lack of warmth in their reunion.
setting, it gives information about the characters of Bridie
Sheila, in this cold atmosphere, reveals little of herself, apart
and Sheila and it establishes the mood and atmosphere
from her discomfort. The set helps to highlight this. The
of the play, which enhances an audiences visualisation
motel room also represents the private space of each woman.
of the characters and events and hence their emotional
Here we see the power of the sub-text working to reveal
responses towards them.
their pain how they move across the room, their language
The audience is aware that the play is set in the present. and the gaps and silences. All powerfully contribute to both
However, the play is also very much about the past and the images Misto constructs and the emotions he engenders
Mistos task, in writing this play, was to educate the in the audience.
audience about those past events, so that they could
Student Activity: How do the sets allow the audience to
understand Bridies and Sheilas experiences and the
visualise the ideas and characters in the play and shape
enormous impact these had on their lives.
audience response (feelings/understanding/awareness)?
To do this in a plausible manner, Misto sets half the play in
QUESTIONS: Students consider how the forms and
a television studio. This set is ideal in limiting the amount
language of texts create images, affect interpretation and
of dialogue necessary to inform the audience of the history
shape meaning.
of a war that changed these womens lives. It gives the play
a framework for the investigation of past events, which is Act 1, Scenes 1 and 2
plausible and convenient. It also enables Misto to employ 1. The first word of the play is Darkness. Explain the
dramatic techniques such as lighting, slides, music and significance of this opening image.
sound - techniques that may have been inappropriate in a 2. Consider Bridies dialogue and stage directions in
different set; these contribute to the many verbal and visual Scene 1. What do you learn about her character and
images Misto creates for our understanding of the issues in how does it establish your image of her?
the play as well as the characters.
3. Misto uses visual and verbal images to explore the
The play begins on a dark silent set, which evokes in the following issues:
audience the darkness and pain of the characters memories,  Imperialism. Eg dialogue (p. 20), They have slanty
as well as suggesting their stories have been hidden for too eyesshoot? Here we see upper class British
long. Out of the darkness will come truth. The slides educate snobbery at work and appreciate British arrogance
the audience about the war and help convey more effectively and myopia.
Mistos themes the pain of war, power and memories.  Attitude to women
They also establish the authenticity of Bridies and Sheilas
 Historys ignorance of their plight
experiences, as well as allowing the audience to understand
and relate more closely with them. The music has a similar Next to each issue explain how the dramatic techniques
effect, both enhancing the images and each scenes mood, create images that deepen your understanding.

38 English Teachers Association of NSW


THE SHOEHORN SONATA:
Module A Elective 2
4. In Scene 2, we see that the relationship between .3. Explain how Sheilas dialogue further intensifies our
the two women is tense. What dramatic techniques image of her and the story of her capture.
shape our perception of this tension? Consider stage 4. How does the very, very bright spotlight, the sound
directions, dialogue and set. of the lapping waves, the slides and the voiceovers
5. How do the gloves shape our perception of Sheila? of the young Sheila and Bridie add to the images
What other dramatic techniques help shape our conveyed in the dialogue?
image of her? 5. What image is created when Sheila and Bridie hold
6. How do the dramatic techniques shape our image of hands and the Japanese voices are heard on the
Bridie in these scenes? soundtrack? How is the audience positioned?
7. Comment on the symbolism of the suitcase in terms Scene 4
of how we visualise their lives, past and present.
1. Bridie longs for a renewed closeness with Sheila. How
Scene 3 does an audience see the tension between them?
1. Sheilas discomfort is evident at the beginning of 2. What dramatic features help an audience visualise
this scene. How does Misto position the audience to Lipstick Larry and the brutality of the Japanese?
visualise this through the dialogue, music and stage 3. Misto uses dialogue, stage directions and flashback
directions? to juxtapose the loincloth incident with the womens
2. The following issues are explored in this scene. humour regarding the event. How does this
strengthen your visualisation and understanding of
Complete the table below.
Bridie and Sheila?

ISSUE DRAMATIC FEATURES WHAT IS VISUALISED? HOW THIS AFFECTS


MEANING/RESPONSE

The fall of empire Jerusalem hymn music The greatness of Imperial Creates sense of renown
Britain and defence.
Establishes mood and time.
Slides of Singapore The vulnerability of the Feel pity, concern and
Harbour p. 32 young women in the sea. admiration of their courage.
Danger, aloneness. Sense of sadness/pathos.
We see the once proud Heralds death and misery;
Singapore brought to her fearful for what this means
knees. for B&S.

Lighting gradual Future suffering, young lives Ominous sense of Japanese


illumination of Japanese exposed. victory and fear for the lives
flag and rising sun. p. 35 of B&S.

The rise of empire

Power

War

Attitudes to women

mETAphor Issue 1, 2009 39


THE SHOEHORN SONATA:
Module A Elective 2
Scene 5
1. The following issues are explored in this scene.
Complete the table below.

ISSUE DRAMATIC FEATURES WHAT IS HOW THIS AFFECTS


VISUALISED? MEANING/RESPONSE

War and atrocities Dialogue: All the men were Brutality of the Japanese Feel horror, pity and anger;
bayoneted p. 41 forces; agony and fear of understanding of the past.
the prisoners.
Soundtrack of womens cries Horror and desperation of Feel horror at wars brutality;
p. 41 brave and decent women. deeper understanding
of Bridie & Sheilas past
experiences and how this
affects present.

Slides of women and Suffering, innocent Feel anger and reach a deeper
starving children in the civilians; the pity of war. understanding of the effects
camps. P. 41 of war.

Symbol of chop bone p. 45 Starving women; appalling Understand depth of


conditions of the camp. friendship and miracle of their
survival.

Heroism

Power

Truth

Attitudes to women

Resilience

2. How does the juxtaposition of Happy Times against 4. The image created of Sheila is one of a very proper
the sounds of machine gun fire add to the audiences English woman. How does this image magnify the
visual understanding? sacrifice she has made in order to save Bridies life?
3. Through the choir, Misto depicts the courage and 5. When Sheila recounts her ordeal with the soldiers, it
nobility of the prisoners-of-war. How does he do this? is parenthesised by the sound of the crickets becoming
louder and then ceasing. How does this sound affect
Scene 8
and enhance our visualisation of the event?
1. This scene begins with both characters hurt and
6. What image of the women is created in the stage
concealing their true feelings. How has Misto created
direction, isolated in the spotlight?
this image?
7. The shoehorn is a symbol of hope and survival for
2. Sheilas way of dealing with the truth is to dig a hole
Bridie. It represents her fathers love, her inclusion in
and bury it. Explain the effect of this image.
the musical performance and it is a good luck omen.
3. Look at the description of Belalau. What does it What does it symbolise for Sheila?
represent about the issue of truth in the play?

40 English Teachers Association of NSW


THE SHOEHORN SONATA:
Module A Elective 2
Act 2, Scene 9 Scene 12
1. Explain the effect of the huge photograph of bowing 1. Bridie is still affected by the war. What visualisation
female prisoners-of war. techniques are used to convey this?
2. Where else and why has Misto used the image of 2. What is Misto depicting when he ends this scene
bowing in the play? with the photos of the wartime leaders and the song,
3. How does the hymn enhance the image the audience Whispering Grass?
has? Scene 13
4. What image of the women is conveyed in the black 1. Why is the destruction of the diaries, depicted in the
humour of the chant, One day I killed a Jap? dialogue, followed by the image of the atomic bomb?
5. What is the effect of the image of fading women in the 2. Look at the actions of the British authorities and
photograph? the Japanese on pp. 8081. What does this contrast
6. Through Sheilas dialogue (virtually a monologue) we portray about the womens vulnerability to those in
visualise the women reduced to animals. How does power?
this image affect your response? 3. How does Misto elicit audience sympathy on pp.
7. Sheilas monologue of events is juxtaposed with 8084?
Bridies singing. How does this enhance the images
4. How do the stage directions in this scene help us to
of fear and suffering conveyed by Sheila? How is the
see the reconciliation between Sheila and Bridie?
audience affected?
5. The final image is a tribute to the Army nurses and
8. Curtins message to the women is to keep smiling.
a condemnation of the Army and the government.
a) In the light of what we know about their plight, Explain how the image and the accompanying music
how does Misto position us to view the authorities achieve this.
back home?
Scene 14
b) Look at the womens response. What does this
reveal about them? 1. Look at the final stage direction. How does the
symbol of the shoehorn, as well as the music and
Scene 10 lighting shape your final image?
1. What do we visualise about Sheilas situation when we Extra
see her doing tapestry on p. 68?
For the following types of conflict, give two examples and
2. Identify the dramatic techniques in this scene that identify the visual language Misto uses to construct the
depict the effects of the war on Sheila. How has your conflict and how it affects our interpretation of the play.
image of Sheila been developed throughout the play?
Personal between characters
Scene 11
1. Look at the contrast between the two letters Bridie Internal within characters involving a decision to
and Sheila received. Briefly describe your visualisation be made
of each family as conveyed through each letter. Social between society and a character or group. of
2. Explain the use of darkness in this scene. characters
3. Explain the significance of the word sonata in the Natural non-human or natural occurrences.
title. We see it working in this scene. Explain how it (Eg a farmer and a drought)
helps us to visualise harmony restored and how you
feel as an audience. Character Sheet
4. The issues of truth, reconciliation and war atrocities Students are to complete a sheet for Bridie and
are explored in this scene. Identify the dramatic Sheila, showing how each dramatic feature creates a
techniques Misto has used to explore these issues visualisation of each character and shapes meaning
and how they help the audience to visualise and (audience response).
understand these issues. Draw your own table, similar
to those in Scenes 3 and 5.

mETAphor Issue 1, 2009 41


THE SHOEHORN SONATA:
Module A Elective 2

Nurses of the Australian Army Nursing Service (AANS) leave Melbourne for the Middle East, 29 December 1940. (AWM 003062).
Image courtesy of Dept of Veterans Affairs http://www.dva.gov.au/images/commems/keydates/optimized/10-A.jpg

Example of Character Sheet BRIDIE

DRAMATIC
EXAMPLES VISUALISATION
FEATURE
tries to straighten up p. 19; big walk; An older woman; vigorous; bold; a person who
she takes everything on offer p. 37; takes the opportunities offered her; used to
looking at Sheila fondly p. 24; taking control of others/situations; affectionate;
Gesture Bridie conducts p. 46; demonstrative; enthusiastic.
Bridie makes a flourishing gesture p. 46 Allows us to relate to Bridie, to be aware that war
atrocities happened to ordinary people, to admire
resilience.

Dialogue
Projected images
Music
Flashbacks
Sound effects
Lighting
Dance
Symbols
Humour
Stage directions

EXTENDED RESPONSE
Using the notes collected, write an extended response to the question:
How does Misto use dramatic structure and language to help the audience visualise the events that he unfolds?

42 English Teachers Association of NSW


RICHARD III KINGS GAMES:
murder, muddy, marry or make friends
Dr Kate Flaherty, University of Sydney
D

And so they said, these matters bee Kings


games, as it were stage-playes, and for the
most part played upon scaffolds.
The History of Richard the Third
Thomas More 1641

The aim of the game


The game is a game of political strategy. It comprises a set
of levels, each represented by a tableau. At each level it is
the task of the player to be Richard Duke of Gloucester
who murders, marries, muddies and makes friends to

I
n Shakespeares Richard III, Richards final step to
make his way to the throne.
the throne is a bluff. In Act 3, scene 7, he plays at
being reticent to take the crown and thereby, with Setting up the game
the help of Buckingham, stages a scene in which he
1. Devise or have your students devise one simple
appears persuaded to do so against his will. This scene
physical gesture for each of the following: murder,
from Shakespeares play achieves dramatic realisation of
marry, muddy, make friends. Explain that these are
Thomas Mores insight about the machinations of royal
Richard of Gloucesters tactics in Shakespeares play
power and the territory it shares with theatre. Richard III for gaining the throne.
is all about the games kings play.
2. Distribute character cards to students and ask all
In teaching Richard III to senior high-school students students with Tableau 1 cards to come to the front
in modern Australia, the gaming analogy is one that of the room and create a tableau that reflects their
will have useful resonance and can be used to overcome characters statuses/relationships (eg. Henry and
the daunting historical complexity of the play. In the Margaret on thrones, Anne and Prince Edward sitting
exercise below I have turned the gaming analogy into at their feet). If your students are very new to the play,
a one-lesson game for introducing the play. Following you may need to set up the tableau and explain the
the exercise is a set of suggestions for how this game relationships yourself.
might be built upon in further classes and some in-depth
discussion about why it is a particularly effective way to Playing the game
introduce Shakespeares play. 1. Of the students remaining, nominate one to play
Richardto murder, marry, muddy or make friends
What youll need with the characters in the tableau to pave his path to
A4 sheets or large cards with character names (see the throne. Allow the player to take an action, then
chart below) written (large) on one side and the to explain his reasons for doing so. When the action
tableau to which each belongs written on the other. of the first tableau is complete (Henry VI and Prince
(Characters belong to the tableau in which they first Edward murdered) set up Tableau 2.
appearsee chart below). 2. Continue allowing players to take turns as Richard
Key quotes stuck to the back of some character cards and setting up successive tableaux as the players
(optional) succeed in ridding Richard of obstacles to the
throne. Use the table below as your guide for the
A class of around 20 students
actions that need to take place in each tableau. Skip
Open floor space subtler actions if you think them unimportant to
A few chairs/desks for students to arrange the level of your students understanding. Prompt
students if they get stuck: Who besides Richards
A set of cardboard crowns (optional) brother Clarence is in line for the throne? (The
The table below for your own reference young princes). What should you do about them?

mETAphor Issue 1, 2009 43