Shoe Horn Sonata – John MistoModule A: Distinctively Visual 2010 English Study Day
Examination points to remember • You must show the examiner that you understand that this text is a drama. DO NOT call it a book – refer to it as a ‘text’ or ‘drama’. • The task of the playwright is to manipulate the emotions of the audience and to keep them engaged for the entire performance. You will have to be able to explain how the play does this. Consider how the distinctively visual elements of the play capture, involve and engage the audience for the entire play.
Examination points to remember • It has to be clear to the marker that you understand that this is a playscript, that is a ‘recipe for performance’. In other words, a play is constructed to happen ideally on a stage in front of a receptive audience – it is not like a novel or poem designed to provide an imaginative experience that takes place primarily in the mind and emotions of a solitary responder. The composer of a play aims to influence the responses of a collective group – therefore, refer often to how the ‘audience’ would respond.
Exam Style Questions Composers who challenge their audiences to visualise beyond what is placed directly before them can manipulate emotions and influence society’s attitudes. Do you agree? In your response make detailed reference to key extracts from your prescribed text and from one other related text.
Composer’s Aim • John Misto had two aims when composing this text: • Designed as a memorial to those women who were involved in WW2 and whose involvement is often forgotten. To bring an awareness of these events to Australian society. • As a drama, a text to entertain an audience. He created a narrative arc with elements of suspense, surprise, confrontation and a resolution. He had to have tension to grip the audience. Through this drama he explores : loyalty, friendship and truth.
Process Visual (Textual Features) Effect/Impact (feelings, deepen understanding and awareness Interpretation (Meaning)
Distinctively Visual What are the images we see/and or visualise in the text. What are we (the audience) prompted but not led to visualise? What do we see that is not directly there in front of us? How does Misto make us work to see what he’s saying to us? What techniques does he use to achieve this?
What does this play say to us about: Trust and honesty in relationships? The heroism of POW’s especially women and children? The place of humour in adversity? Truth and honesty in governments? Misto’s reasons for composing this as a play?
Dialogue/Monologue As audience members we are actively listening to what is said. Dialogue does the following: Moves the story/action along Reveals new information Creates mood/atmosphere, eg humour, sadness, happiness Reconstructs ‘memory’ or the past Reveals character
Distinctively Visual Elements • Photographic images Misto uses photographic images to achieve several things. Photographs are used to support the actors’ dialogue. They often validate the memories of these women and bring these memories to life for the audience. We know that the characters are fictitious, however, the photographs remind the audience that there were real women who experienced very similar situations to these two characters.
Distinctively Visual Elements • One of the problems faced by Misto is how to make bearable to a modern audience a play about suffering, cruelty, deprivation and death. He has been able to overcome this problem with the use of the photographic images. He uses the distancing technique, whereby the characters and their audience are distanced in time from the events recalled and presented in the play. The women in the play have not only survived the camps, they have lived through the subsequent years and have in some ways dealt with the trauma. They can now look back. The audience through the use of the visual images are transported to the time, but understand these events existed in the past.
Distinctively Visual Elements • Photographic Images • Secondly, the photographic images are there to create an additional visual set to support the story being told by the women by transporting them into this past. They also act as a memorial and provide additional information about not only the horrific events, but also the historical context and the social/cultural attitudes at the time.
Distinctively Visual Elements • The images transport the audience to the world which these women are describing through their dialogue of memories.. In Act 1, Whilst Bridie describes the evacuation of Singapore and the naivety of the British to the attack, the images of Singapore allow the audience to understand the magnificence of this city prior to the attack. The photographs transport the audience to this setting and validate Bridie’s description of the city and indeed the attitude of British society at the time. The image of a sign put up by the government in Singapore saying “Don’t listen to Rumour’ reinforces the attitude she developed about the British government’s approach to war. • Misto juxtaposes images of Singapore harbour with burning ships and clouds of smokes to once again transport the audience to this setting and to contrast the city before and after the attack and to allow the audience to understand the move from security to absolute terror and panic that was experienced by the characters and indeed all those women and children evacuated from this country.
Distinctively Visual Elements • Thirdly – the photographs help the composer to add ‘extras’ to the drama without the need for additional actors. • In Act 1, Scene 3, a photographic image of the Japanese flag is projected on the screen, and as it fades, photographs of soldiers riding bicycles, a sky filled with parachutes; Japanese battalions marching through the streets, transport the audience once again to this setting. The audience are allowed, through the images, to visualise the invasion of Japanese soldiers into Singapore and the dominance they now held over this country and indeed the women.
Distinctively Visual Elements • What else do the photographic images do? • Misto also uses the images to help convey understanding of why events occurred and the attitudes of particular societies, such as the British government to the invasion of Singapore. These help convey historical perspectives on events, but also help us to understand the ideals and attitude of Sheila, who is herself, a British citizen and Bridie, an Australian with her resentment of the decisions made by this country.
Distinctively Visual Elements • Music and Sound • . Mistro also uses excerpts from more than a dozen songs from the period to accompany these images. The use of song and of instrumental music has several purposes. First, it shows in actuality to the audience the soothing and uplifing power of music. Music was a crucial feature of the ‘life support’ system in the camps. It also adds variety and emotional sub-text to many of the plays scenes. It places them also in their historical context. On some occasions it suggests the irony of the situations the two women faced. • When Bridie describes the evacuation and criticises the British, the song ‘Rule Britannia’ is played. This is a very patriotic song which reinforces the ideals of the society within which the British were accustomed to in Singapore. It is also a song that helps us understand the attitude of colonial countries and the superiority that Britain ‘ruled’ over these colonies. Misto uses this song in an attempt to sarcastically convey the pompous naivety of the government that alternately lead to the predicament in which these women found themselves. The irony of the situation is their attitude of superiority placed them in a position of inferiority.
Distinctively Visual Elements • Truth • Truth in the play is important. It is demonstrated in the healing power that truth has in the revelation of the women. Misto also challenges us, the audience, to examine the social and political issues of the time that allowed these events to pass unacknowledged. The audience through the use of visual images, combined with other elements sympathise with the characters forcing them to be critical of the government responsible for these events. This effectively addresses his aim of providing a memorial to these women and to highlight their often overlooked involvement in WW2.
Distinctively Visual Elements • Combination of Images, Music and Sound and dialogue. • The combined use of distinctively visual elements of music and sound alongside the images, appeal to the audience’s senses and also help with the transportation of the audience to events which are being brought to life through the dialogue of the women's memories. In Act 1, Scene 3, when the women find themselves in the water the song ‘Jerusalem’ is sung by a young Sheila. This song sets a sombre mood and together with the slides of Singapore on fire help the audience to visualise the desperate life-threatening situation that these characters found themselves in. We are further transported to this setting and the women’s plight through the sounds of waves being played. This tantalises our senses of hearing and touch and together with the visual images we can imagine being in the ocean with these women and can hear their desperation for heavenly help when they sing ‘Jerusalem’ as they struggle for survival.
Distinctively Visual Elements • Sound – Rick • Rick plays an important part in the play. He is unseen, we only hear his voice which acts as a vehicle for direction for public recollection and questioning. He asks the questions that an audience would be wanting to ask themselves. He gives structure and continuity to events on stage whilst also being symbolic to the males who have been absent in the women’s lives.
Distinctively Visual Elements • Lighting • Lighting visually reinforces or emphasise the harshness of events or highlights the tension that exists between characters or between the women and the Japanese enemy. When Sheila is describing the boats under attack by the Japanese, the English crew yell ‘Get up! Stand up! Let the Japanese see you’re just women and children. Sheila stands, fixed by a very, very bright spotlight. The use of the light here helps recreate the events on the boats for the audience ‘Some mothers clutched their children and cried. And we stared into the light’. It emphasises the terror felt by those involved, as well as allowing us to understand that Sheila was a part of this terror. It is also symbolic of the harshness and cruelty of the enemy.
Distinctively Visual Elements • Lighting • Lighting is also used to visually represent the tension that exists between these two women. In scenes when tension exists between Bridie and Sheila, they are often shown in separate spotlights. This highlights the tension and distance between the two women and visually represents the rift that has remained between them for the past 50 years. • However, Misto also uses lighting in the last scene to show the forgiveness and renewed friendship of these two women, when the spotlight shines as a single beam on both women as they dance together . This then fades and the beam is shone on the shoe horn reminding the audience that this simple symbolic device is representative of the loyalty and friendship that developed through their often horrific experiences in WW2, but also as a catalyst of truth 50 years on that helped them to heal and continue the rest of their lives as firm friends.
Distinctively Visual Elements • Body Language • The tension in the play between the two women is also visually represented by Misto through the body language and stage movements of the two characters. Their actions also remind the audience that many of their experiences within the POW camp were shared experiences. However, Misto often juxtaposes the body language of tension between the two with actions that draws attention to the strong bond that still exists between these two women.
Distinctively Visual Elements • Body Language • In Act 1 Scene 2 the stage directions indicate that there is obvious tension between the two women and this is reinforced by the dialogue between them. However, at the end of this scene they both move towards the suitcase and through their actions bring to life the memory of how they would lift the coffins of those women who had died in the camps. Their body actions in performing this task reinforce to us that despite the tension that now exists, these women still share a strong bond and shared experiences.
Distinctively Visual Elements • Body Language • Body language is also used to visually demonstrate the vulnerability and terror of these women during the events of the invasion and subsequent imprisonment by the Japanese. It also shows us that this vulnerability and fear stills exists 50 years after the experience. Misto also shows us through these actions how these women relied on each other to help them survive the terrible ordeals of the camp. In Act 1, Scene 3 when the Japanese flag is displayed on the screen, the stage directions ask for the women to use their body language to show their vulnerability – Sheila instinctively reaches out to take Bridie’s hand. They hold hands. And once again they both look vulnerable. We hear Japanese voices on the soundtrack.
Distinctively Visual Elements • Motifs and Symbols • The title of the play suggests the importance of this motif throughout the play. It is a symbol of loyalty and friendship that the women had to each other and as the shoe-horn appears Misto effectively uses the ‘distant sound of crickets’, which highlight that Sheila is hiding something. It becomes evident later on in the play that Sheila did not trade the shoe horn for Quinine to save Bridie but she sold herself. This act of selflessness creates sympathy for Sheila and demonstrates the loyalty between the two women.
Distinctively Visual Elements • Motifs and Symbols • Shoe horn symbolism of loyalty, friendship, truth • Saves Sheila’s life in the South China Sea • Use as an instrument in the choir to lift their spirit and strengthen their bond • The symbolism of the shoe horn is represented at the end of the play, as Sheila provides her revelation to Bridie and offers the shoe horn back to her as a sign of their renewed friendship. • OTHER ITEMS THAT VISUALLY SYMBOLISE THEIR LOYALTY AND FRIENDSHIP. • Chop bone and caramel tin, caramel
TIPS • As you can see many distinctively visual elements have been identified, however, I have only drawn examples of these from a few scenes. DO NOT try to retell the story, or cover every instance where these elements/techniques have been used. Focus on three or four scenes from different areas of the text. This shows that you understand the progression of the story. • You need to have a good understanding of the play – however, DO NOT simply retell the story. Examiners know the story. They want to know if you can identify elements that contribute to the audience’s understanding or engagement of the play. • You may be asked about themes or purpose of the text or character development and how they are represented through distinctively visual techniques. Remember talk about the theme/purpose briefly and then identify the techniques and how they convey understanding of these. Remember to continually link your response back to the examination question.
SUPPORT TEXTS • These are just as important as the prescribed text. They demonstrate to the examiner that you are able to transfer the skills and knowledge learnt from analysing the prescribe text and apply them to a text of your own choosing. • You should have at least two support texts responses prepared for this module.
‘Gorilla’ - Anthony Browne – Picture Book • If using a support text, once again DO NOT retell the story or try to use all aspects of the text. These are often mistakes made by those using film as a support text. Simple pick one or two scenes that are relevant to the topic and use these. You need to discuss distinctively visual techniques and how they have been used. • In ‘Gorilla’, I am going to show you how to use 2 openings from the book to show how distinctively visual ideas have been used to convey understanding.
‘Gorilla’ - Anthony Browne – Picture Book • Visual elements in this opening: • Colour connotation – blues, blacks, grey and white – dull colours, much like the relationship between these two. The relationship appears lifeless. • Vector lines on the table draw the eye from Hannah to her father emphasising the distance between them. These two are not close. • Newspaper held by the father creates a visual barrier between the two. • The table is vary bare, much like their relationship. Nothing is nourishing their relationship.
‘Gorilla’ - Anthony Browne – Picture Book • The facial expressions of the father – emphasise his disinterest in his daughter. He would rather read the paper. • Nearly all the objects surround the two characters in the picture are squares. Squares are harsh shapes, with sharp edges and sharp points. The use of squares symbolise the harshness of their relationship. It has a hard edge. • The only bright colour is the red of Hannah’s jumper. The use of red tells us that she wants to be happy, she desires a close and loving relationship with her father.
‘Gorilla’ - Anthony Browne – Picture Book • Visual elements in this opening: (Contrasting Openings) • Symbolism – Hannah loves gorillas. The gorilla in this opening symbolises her father and the type of relationship she wants with him. • Colour connotation – oranges, yellows, red. These are warm colours. Creates a sense of warmth and confort between the two. • No Vector lines on the table therefore, unlike previous opening, these two appear close and comfortable with each other. There are no barriers.
‘Gorilla’ - Anthony Browne – Picture Book • The table is full of food, this relationship is being nourished. • Nearly all the objects surround the two characters in the picture are round. Round shapes are much more soft and even cuddly. These visual images help us understand the closeness, softness and warmth of this relationship.
RTA – Notes TV Advertisement Many texts are effective because of their simplicity. The omissions of dialogue in the ‘Notes’ texts invite the responder to apply their own imaginative narrative, to fill in the gaps from their own experience, based on just a few clues. Making the scenes everyday ones and naming the young people – with names like people in your class – creates a familiar context for the audience. The distinctively visual components of this TV advertisement all work together to evoke empathy.
RTA – Notes TV Advertisement • No dialogue so the importance of distinctively visual elements is essential for conveying the point of view of the advertisement: • Music – creates mood • Zoom in on each note – shows the last message left by each young person. Evokes an emotional response. • The background images, emphasis that these people come from all different family backgrounds and have a relationship with members of their family. Therefore we understand that these deaths can happen to anyone, regardless of your family background or lifestyle. • The display of the young person’s name in a very formal font stating their name and date of birth and death, works to shock the viewer into realising that these are real people who have died and that the notes are the last communication they had with their families.
LAST TIP • Do NOT forget to write an effective conclusion to your response. You will lose points if you do not have the correct structure for your text type. • This also applies to the introduction or opening statements of your response. Do not just launch into your prescribe text.
GOOD LUCK Study = A+ √