an interview with John Misto on
The Shoe-Horn Sonata. It's part of our podcast series,
Not in Print - half hour, concentrated explorations of Australian plays.
Not in Print
The scene opens in the studio and dominating the space is a large image of both Australian and British women bowing to the Japanese. This huge image remains throughout most of the scene and the audience cannot escape its meaning. Both Bridie and Sheila are present and Bridie is off to one side singing the Captive's 'Hymn' (with the women's choir). Sheila is speaking to the camera and her answers to the questions are juxtaposed with Bridie's singing. In this interview we learn about the situation in Belalau and the Japanese order that had been issued to kill every prisoner of war.
Bridie's illness and the way in which Sheila looked after her is made public—but Sheila baulks at telling the whole truth about how she acquired the drugs to save her, making up the story of the shoe-horn saving her. This information is picked up by the interviewer as if it is highly significant. The scene ends with the story of Curtin's message: 'Keep smiling, girls'. The horror of this command is emphasised by the image of Curtin and the prisoners and the Judy Garland song.
27. Make notes on the factual information that is revealed about the war.
28. Make notes on the way that Sheila has responded to the events of the war. Examine the ways in which she uses language in this scene to both reveal and hide her feelings.
29. Make notes on the ideas or issues that are highlighted by the dramatic form of this scene.
The transition to this scene holds the image of emaciated male prisoners in view as we move into a space that is neither hotel room nor studio although both characters are still wearing body microphones. Sheila has not gone to lunch and is sitting doing some kind of tapestry—an image of stitching things together. Bridie comments on the photograph of the soldiers—a comment that stimulates a riposte from Sheila about the role of the government in suppressing information about the women's role in the war. This interaction between the on-stage action and the projected visual images connects past and present.
Their conversation reveals the tension that is now out in the open. Recriminations flow as Bridie tries to make sense of what she has learned and Sheila tries to defend her actions, not only with the Japanese but also in leaving Bridie after the war. The intercutting of Rick's voice into their altercation leaves them not knowing how much he has heard. The juxtaposition of the song 'I'll Walk Alone' suggests the isolation of each of these victims of this dreadful situation.
30. Make notes on the factual information that is revealed about the war.
31. Make notes on their view of the relationship between the women in this scene. Consider what might be causing the tensions that are evident in the scene.
32. Make notes on the ideas or issues that are highlighted by the dramatic form of this scene.
This scene is back in the studio and the visual image of the postcards seems dwarfed beside the projected images that we have previously seen. The recitation of the words of each of the postcards leads the women back into their memories. The moments of darkness highlight the pain of these experiences.
In this scene the image of the sonata becomes significant as the women trawl back through their memories together. In this scene, one of the most important issues of the play is highlighted—the complete lack of acknowledgement by the Australian government juxtaposed with the pitifully small amount of compensation paid by the Japanese government to these victims of the power play of these sovereign states.
33. Make notes on the factual information that is revealed about the war.
34. Discuss the feelings that the women reveal about their memories in this scene.
35. Make notes on the ideas or issues that are highlighted by the dramatic form of this scene.
This scene takes place in the motel room. Bridie is attempting to re-establish their relationship despite the obvious tensions between them. It is in this scene that we learn of Bridie's 'crime' in the David Jones' food hall. We now understand how she feels and why she reacted in this way. Sheila's reaction to this confession allows us to see how deeply scarred these women have been by their experiences—not only by the Japanese, but also by the responses and inaction of their own countries. Sheila's realisation is that it is important not only for themselves but for the thousands of others similarly afflicted to tell these stories in public. Bridie is not yet convinced and the tension between them arises again. We are now aware that this tension is about the present, the past, memories, recollections, reconstructions, truth, shame and guilt. The moment of darkness returns, followed by images of 'great men' of history and the song, 'Whispering Grass'.
36. Make notes on the factual information that is revealed about the war.
37. Make notes on the ideas about truth and lies that are revealed in this scene.
38. Make notes on the ideas or issues that are highlighted by the dramatic form of this scene.
This scene cuts straight into the interview as both Bridie and Sheila recount their experiences as the war draws to an end. We hear about the diaries and the burning of these by the British. This is overlaid with images of
and the news of the death of
after the war had officially ended. There is a sense of calm as both women recount these events, although at one significant moment Sheila's composure cracks. It is at this point that we see the symbiotic relationship that the women had previously enjoyed. As Bridie finishes recounting the anecdote that Sheila had begun they join hands and relive, together, that moment of memory and reconciliation. The playing of the 'Blue Danube Waltz' is a counterpoint to their memories. Dancing becomes associated with life and joy and hope and survival, and this is juxtaposed with the Japanese atrocities in Belalau and the visual images of the celebrations of the end of the war.
The scene reaches a climax as the confessions of the two women are made public. This is the moment of truth as Bridie tells about Sheila's personal sacrifice and Sheila tells of Bridie's theft from David Jones. The simplicity of these truths juxtaposed with the official 'lies' of the government ring out with a clarity and candour that is underlined by the gradual darkness that follows the revelation. This scene ends with the sounds of the hymn 'An Epitaph to War', images of the women recuperating and the huge projected image of the army nurses arriving in
39. Make notes on the factual information that is revealed about the war.
40. Examine the relationship between the characters that is revealed in this scene.
41. Make notes on the ideas or issues that are highlighted by the dramatic form of this scene.
The filming has finished, and Bridie is reading a newspaper—a poignant symbol of the official version of news. The two colleagues and friends are now reunited and this is contained in the image of the lifting of the suitcase. While most of the tension has been released there is still some unresolved business to be dealt with. Sheila holds out the shoe-horn, now the symbol not only of their reunion, but also of their reconciliation. The two women embrace. The play ends with them women dancing to the 'Blue Danube' and in the slowly darkening space the final spotlight falls on the shoe-horn.
42. Make notes on the factual information that is revealed about the war.
43. Discuss the reconciliation that has taken place between the characters.
44. Make notes on the ideas or issues that are highlighted by the dramatic form of this scene.
You are welcome to read our study guides and essays online and to print out a single copy for your own use. If you are a school or an educational institution, you may also reproduce multiple copies of any guide for educational purposes, provided that your school or institution give a remuneration notice to Copyright Agency Limited (
specified under the Act.
If your organisation does not operate under a statutory licence scheme, or for any other use, please
contact us for permission.