205: The Shoe-Horn Sonata

4 Jun

John Misto’s award-winning play The Shoe-Horn Sonata is a moving tribute to the Australian nurses held prisoner by the Japanese in the Second World War. In 1942, 65 Australian Army nurses were among the hundreds of thousands of women and children taken prisoner in Singapore. Most of them died over the next three years, but a few survived the horrendous POW camps and this is their story.

play and woman

Misto did extensive research and vowed to tell the hidden story, the one that governments preferred to forget. Unlike the fallen soldiers from wars, there were no memorials to the nurses or the civilians who were captured and murdered during the Second World War. Misto donated his prize money to their cause and in 1999 at long last a memorial was unveiled.

The Shoe-Horn Sonata is a play for two older women. It’s a memory play and a play about friendship and broken trust. Bridie was an Army Nurse captured by the Japanese. Sheila was a young girl sent out of Singapore by her parents on a boat that was torpedoed in the harbour.

The two characters are Misto’s invention, but you can sense that many parts of the story they tell are similar to what he heard from many of the women he interviewed. In his author’s notes he writes: “Although the characters of Bridie and Sheila are fictional, every incident they describe is true and occurred between 1942 and 1995.”

To stop the play becoming maudlin with reminiscing, Misto gives his two protagonists a burning problem for the present. After rescuing each other time and again and being closer than many of us ever get to be, Bridie and Sheila have not seen each other since the end of the war. During the course of The Shoe-Horn Sonata we gradually find out why.

And the play’s title? The women formed a choir and used Bridie’s shoe-horn as a metronome.

SHEILA: We forgot the Japs – we forgot our hunger – our boils – barbed-wire – everything … Together we made this glorious sound that rose above the camp – above the jungle – above the war – rose and rose and took us with it. Fifty voices set us free.

BRIDIE: Fifty voices and a shoe-horn …

Publisher: Currency Press (1996)

Cast: 2F (and 1M voice over)

For more information on the women prisoners of war, read this article by Hank Nelson in the Journal of the Australian War Memorial.

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4 Responses to “205: The Shoe-Horn Sonata”

  1. Nick June 4, 2012 at 9:25 am #

    I read this myself not long ago – thought it a lovely moving play. Would love to see it done. Any middle-aged female actors around these days?

    • Katherine Lyall-Watson June 4, 2012 at 11:21 am #

      Heaps! I can think of several in Brisbane who would be magnificent. Starting with Carol Burns who is in Elizabeth at QTC at the moment… And then there’s Kaye Stevenson and Penny Everingham. It would be awesome.

      • Katherine Lyall-Watson June 4, 2012 at 11:21 am #

        apologies for taking your ironic comment at face value, Nick. Thought it might help other readers if I named a few actors. 🙂

  2. Darren B July 10, 2012 at 12:04 am #

    There is a movie called “Paradise Road” made in 1997 which tells the story of a group of English, American, Dutch and Australian women who are imprisoned by the Japanese in Sumatra during World War II. It was directed by Bruce Beresford and stars Glenn Close.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paradise_Road_%281997_film%29

    Basing his film on real events, Bruce Beresford tells the story of a vocal orchestra created by the women in a Japanese P.O.W. camp, a classic survivors’ tale extolling women’s ability to survive hardship and atrocity through perseverance, solidarity and creativity.

    I think it was also Cate Blanchett’s first movie roll.

    I think this movie would be based around the same events that take place in
    “The Shoe-Horn Sonata” as well.
    I own a copy on DVD,but it’s quite hard to find at present. Good movie,too.

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