I saw Marcel Dorney’s Harriers in production at Metro Arts in 2004. It was confronting and deeply disturbing so it was great to spend some time now with the script, realising some of the intricacies that had evaded me in the first visceral viewing.
Marcel is an incredible writer and Harriers, for me, bore some resemblance to Blasted by Sarah Kane. The resemblance is more than the unnamed war taking place in both scripts and the atrocities happening on and off stage. It’s there in the vulnerable female protagonists and the threat of violence that’s always present. But mostly it’s in the language which is sparse, broken and filled with questions.
Sayn is an Australian doctor in a war zone. The play begins with her in a cave with a badly broken leg. She’s been rescued from an explosion by a young soldier, Bir. Bir is seventeen and he’s been a child soldier since he was eleven. He speaks a little English, but not much and part of the tension in the play is the difficulty Sayn has in communicating with him. Bir has saved her because she’s a doctor, but if he finds she is an American spy (which is his suspicion) then he’ll have no hesitation in blowing her head off.
Bir has a young friend Pauli, she’s a fellow soldier and they might be lovers. While Bir can make himself understood by Sayn, Pauli has no way of communicating with her and is fiercely antagonistic. Sayn is in agony with a compound fracture and Bir and Pauli want her to walk to another camp where there are children in need of help. They try to force her to her feet.
SAYN: – please please please please don’t oh Christ don’t make me walk please –
BIR: All right. All right.
Twelve, twelve hour. Yes? And we are on move.
SAYN: – yes, yes, all right, thank you, oh thank you, thank you.
She cries quietly, biting her fingers. BIR watches her.
BIR: You are in pain.
SAYN: I’m sorry. This is not what I’m like.
BIR: You do not like pain.
SAYN: No. Sorry. This – I am not like this.
She grits her teeth, trying not to cry.
BIR: Here. (He wipes his hand and offers it to her.) Bite.
Harriers is about our involvement in other countries, training militia or providing arms and then abandoning the rebel forces we’ve trained, leaving them to be decimated or to decimate others.
BIR: I did what they trained me to do. I chased those men through the mountains. They said they would be with us, and they were not with us. Now they’ve come back, and she doesn’t know us. They didn’t tell her about us. […] We’re not here.
You can read the play as a comment on many different conflicts – past and present. But, for me, the message is about the importance of empathy. As Sayn says, “If we don’t have empathy, we’re fucked. Collectively – fucked.” Sayn is brimming over with empathy – it’s what has brought her to this other land and it’s the reason for her putting her life on the line to help others. Dorney shows that empathy is what we need to distinguish ourselves as human, but that, on its own, it’s not enough to save us.
Publisher: Playlab Press (published in Independent Brisbane)
Cast: 2F, 1M