The use of distinctively visual elements allows responders to interpret and create meaning from otherwise complex concepts. John Misto’s play ‘The Shoe Horn Sonata’ and Mike Subritzky’s poem ‘Sister’ both challenges the audience’s interpretation of the traumatic experiences of war. Through a range of distinctly visual techniques both composers help create an understanding of the power of time and the human spirit as overcoming adversity of war.
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As Misto’s The Shoe Horn Sonata develops, the distinctly visual stage positioning of Bridie and Sheila changes to demonstrate how the protagonists’ friendship strengthens over time. Initially Bridie and Sheila are seated at a distance for each other, demonstrating the need for them to reveal their stories as a way of overcoming the metaphorical barriers created by the war. Whilst this metaphorical barrier creates a tone of tension, during their reconciliation a contrast in characterisation occurs. The protagonists now hold hands and sit beside each other on stage. This contrasts creates a shift in tone from one of dissonance to one of hope and friendship. Misto’s use of juxtaposed distinctively visual stage positioning allows the audience to recognise that time has allowed the protagonists to resolve their relationship flaws, and therefore shows how their relationship has changed over time from one of incongruence to one of togetherness.
Despite the growth in Bridie and Sheila’s relationship however distinctively visual projected imagery is used to portray that while time can help heal bad experiences, it cannot completely erase these memories. Through strategic stage positioning, Misto places Sheila beneath projected images of “Starving male prisoners” as “she does some of kind of needlework with great intensity”. By positioning such distinctive and confronting images above Sheila, Misto shows that even when doing simple tasks such as needlework, the memories of war will always remain at the fore of the protagonists’ minds. This positioning acts as a metaphor for the great impact of the war and the difficulty in erasing these memories. This helps responders understand the protagonist’s difficulties in connecting with each other and their world.
Misto’s utilisation of the recurring motif of music demonstrates the poetic and admirable friendship and bond these women have created and the power this bond has had in helping them to overcome the atrocities of the war. Music imagery is also reflected in the plays title ‘Sonata’, which evokes connotations of dual courage, strength and faith, rising as one to overcome past atrocities. The ‘Sonata’ acts as a symbolic metaphor for both Bridie and Sheila, their friendship, and how that relationship has allowed them to overcome their past wartime experiences, whilst reconciling in the present. The use of such powerful and distinctive visual imagery therefore creates awareness of the atrocities of war and helps responders’ honour people who endured such atrocities.
The power of the human spirit in times of war is also addressed in Mike Subritzky’s Poem Sister. Distinctively visual repetition and personification help responders understand the violence and bloodshed of the Vietnam War. Repetition of blood imagery in “Bloodied, broken bodies…Bloody combat gear’ alludes to the prevalence of death during the War, thereby allowing the responder to better understand the feelings of helplessness and misery faced by wounded soldiers. The strength of humanity is symbolised in the characterisation of the nurse who acts as the vehicle of hope to the dying soldiers. The nurse comes to be a visual symbol of courage and hope throughout the poem. When juxtaposed against the imagery of death and dying soldiers – “Young lives ebbed away” – Subritzky creates a sense of hope for humanity in their most extreme hour. Furthermore, by hyperbolising the loss of hope in “I kept the faith when even hope was lost” the nurse is depicted as being the guiding light and life force for soldiers close to death. By highlighting the humility and selflessness of the nurse, responders become aware of the strength of the human spirit in times of hardship and its ability to make easier very difficult situations.
Much like the preceding texts Guo Jian’s painting ‘The day before I went away’ alludes to the atrocities of war, although does so in a satirical way. Through the use of distinctively visual heightened colour and flat surface painting technique, the smiling faced captures the attention of the responder to convey the illusion that the military is a joyful experience created by Chinese propaganda. The juxtaposed characterisation between the glamorous singer in the foreground and grinning soldiers in the background who are set before a looming tank depicts that although propaganda had the initial feel of ‘inviting’ the reality of war is backgrounded and hidden. The salient feature of the image is the glamorous singer, who is toned lighter than the rest of the picture, creating a tone of innocence. She has an outstretched hand, grasping onto the responder of the poster and pulling them into the military. Through distinctively visual elements we as the responder become privy to the falsity of wartime propaganda. The illusion of soldiers happiness when serving their country is contrasted against the harsh reality of the dangers of war symbolised in the thank trapped within the brinks of the painting, as a symbol of their sound and government constraints from which they are unable to escape without falling into dishonour.