This has deserved status as an Australian classic and I must admit I have read it before (just a couple of times!). But I thought I’d read David Williamson’s The Removalists once again before seeing it tonight at Queensland Theatre Company.
I remember being shocked by the aggression and uncontrollable violence the first time I read The Removalists. Knowing what’s coming takes the edge off that shock but allows you to look more at structure and language.
For those who haven’t read or seen The Removalists, Williamson’s 1971 play is about male aggression. Simmonds is an ageing police sergeant, out for what he can get and unconcerned by ethics or morality. He’s a thug of a man and when rookie Ross is sent to him for his first day on the job, Simmonds sets about intimidating and bullying him with relish. When two attractive sisters arrive to report that one of them has been bashed by her husband, Simmonds is in his element.
SIMMONDS: I doubt if you’ll get a conviction on the strength of this report, ladies.
KATE: It was quite a nasty bashing.
SIMMONDS: I’m sure it was but there’s a saying in the trade: “Never arrest a wife basher if his missus is still warm”.
Simmonds soon gets to cop a look and a feel of the victim and promises that he and Ross will assist the sisters in getting Fiona’s furniture removed from the marital home so that she can leave her abusive husband. Their assistance will undoubtedly involve some payback in the flat from both sisters.
SIMMONDS: We’ll be in like Flynn there tomorrow night. We’ll thread the eye of the old golden doughnut – no worries.
Fiona sets a time for the removalist when Kenny (her husband) will be out at the pub but it all goes wrong when he decides to stay home. Simmonds quickly takes things into his own hands and has Kenny cuffed so that he can start bashing him. The violence is brutal, all the worse because Kenny is unable to defend himself.
I love the way that Williamson managed to combine brutality and humour. He made a strong statement about police corruption in a period when it was rife and when reprisals could have been harsh. He was also unafraid to look at the misogyny and chauvinism inherent in much of Australia at the time. His writing, however, does play into it a little with his depictions of the two women. Their characters are very thin and seem to reinforce many of the stereotypes the play is deriding.
Publisher: Currency Press
Cast: 4M, 2F