The dramatic technique in The Removalists


The dramatic technique in The Removalists

Australian literary legend David Williamson’s stage play The Removalists premiered in Australia in 1971, but it perhaps has never been quite so relevant to what is going on in the world outside Down Under as it would become nearly half a century later. The playwright has described the often unsettling mixture of tense drama and dark comedy as a “black satire” but its theme resonate more profoundly in a world in which it has become less satirical and more like a documentary. The play links police corruption, domestic violence and public apathy together to tell a story about a different kind of “trickle-down” theory. At the center of its dark narrative is police Sgt. Simmonds who becomes a metaphor for what happens to society when those invested with authority by the state come to view themselves as the arbiter of the law.

The Removalists is a stark warning of exactly the kind of fascist tendencies which—against all odds and proving that billions are still incapable of learning from even the most horrific mistakes of the past—began to manifest in even the most unlikely of places in the second decade of the 21st century. The danger of the past that seemingly rose from the dead to present a worldwide global threat in the new millennium is singularly expressed by Sgt. Simmonds to a new police constable on his first day: “Look, Ross, I'm in authority here and I'll decide what's my business.”

The authoritarian figure who decides what the business of is of the system which granted that authority is revealed to be a danger capable of infecting an entire society. Ross arrives for his first day on the job to be greeted by a Sgt. Simmonds who tries to teach him the reality of police work while at the same undermining the very ideals of the system which drove Ross to become a police office in the first place. The corruption of Simmonds is far more sinister and insidious than that kind which was creating such a stir on the other side of the planet when he first took the stage. In the early 1970’s, the NYPD stood on the precipice of being exposed as the arguably the most corrupt police force in the United States with the revelations of Det. Frank Serpico. What Serpico revealed, however, was primarily a corruption of active graft and profiteering. By contrast, the corruption of Simmonds’ police force is one marked more by the lack of action.

Another piece of advice from the wisdom of Simmonds put it into context when he tells Ross that the very first thing he needs to learn is to “stuff the rule book” where the sun don’t shine. It is precisely that lack of light which allows fascism to trickle down. Ross begins the play as a figure of humanity and promise and by the end of his first day he has been reduced to the same primitive state as his sergeant. The very fact that Simmonds is older and still in authority is evidence enough that his perspective on the value of following the rules has been consistently overlooked by his superiors. The victims of domestic abuse are also shown to be directly connected to the specific type of corruption pervading this community when Simmonds explains that it is the policy of his force not to “arrest a wife basher if his missus is still warm.”

The dramatic technique in The Removalists

The corruption of fascist ideology is thus spread to the basher who knows he can get away with it and the victim who sees no point in reporting it. The final effect of this corruption is its transformation into apathy by witnesses and bystanders who can only question the wisdom of stepping into the process to do the job for the police if they won’t do it themselves when the Removalist himself declines to help out Kenny who has becomes the victim of irrefutable and unambiguously excessive police force. In the end, everyone in the play—the idealist young constable, the wife abuser, the abused wife and even the furniture through his “removal” from trying to stop the cycle of fascism—become victims of the fascist misplacement of authority by Simmonds.

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. Kate then arrives. Kenny finally decides to go to the pub as usual but then, 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. Simmonds picks out from subtle hints in Kate 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.

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