Stage Drama - Jack Davis' play No Sugar

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by Travis Franse

In life, it is often through unrelated or opposing opinions that meaning is discovered. It is through diametric opposition that understanding may be gained by forcing people into a reappraisal of their attitudes and values. Jack Davis utilises these dual opposites in his  No Sugar. Set during the Great Depression of 1929, this piece of realistic fiction comments on the treatment of Aboriginal people in rural Western Australia. He manipulates his audience to see past race relations, and into the lives of a close Aboriginal family, displaced from their homes and their traditional lives. By creating an ironic dialect of  and suffering within his unquestionably dramatic , Davis enforces a personal sympathy and understanding from the audience.

The point on which the entire play operates is the difference in cultural understanding between colonial audiences and Aboriginal characters. Jack Davis manipulates this wide visual distance to his advantage. He differentiates between audience preconceptions of Aboriginality and its reality. In fact, it is as a result of this distance that much of the play’s humour is formed. The audience may relate to seeing Aboriginal people: -

”…laughing and hooting Nyoongah fashion…”                                
as in Act One Scene Two, and will laugh as they would in real life. Jack Davis manipulates this by showing events be fore after, often invisible to ordinary colonial citizens. This explains the actions of the Aborigines. It is in this second part of the play’s construction that suffering and misery arises, with the changing of audience expectations. The other way Jack Davis has used visual distance for his own purpose is by creating stereotypical characters already familiar to audiences. Audiences see these characters and think that they know that type of person. Yet, they are soon proven wrong by the simple sincerity of Jack Davis’ character constructions. Audiences are also allowed, for a time, to think that the play is unrealistic, assured into a false sense of security by some of the play’s openly theatrical sequences. Yet by the play’s conclusion, the reality rings true. Jack Davis is a master of audience manipulation, through which he presents both humour and pathos mixed with his overly dramatic style. It is within this ironic dialect that meaning and understanding of Aboriginality is generated in the text.

A major source of humour in the play is the characters . The characters of white Australian descent tend to speak with a clean, even pretentious and pompous language, disguising their evil deeds behind kind phrases. The most obvious example of this is the character Auber Octavius Neville. He states, with refined and privileged language, in Act One Scene Two, that: -

”…if you provide the native the basic accoutrements of civilisation,

you’re halfway to civilising him.”
However, on closer inspection, a colonial
 would reveal a belief that Europeans are unquestionably superior and that any previous Aboriginal civilisation was illegitimate. The humour is derived from the juxtapositioning of such pompous statements against the more rude and blunt comments of Aboriginal characters. Also in Act One Scene Two, the following interplay between the Sergeant and Milly occurs: -

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”SERGEANT: Your trouble, Milly, is you got three healthy men bludging

off you, too lazy to work.

MILLY: Where they gonna get work?”
Such contrasting dialogue at first seems merely humorous to a colonial audience, but on later reflection, that humour turns to misery, as one reflects on the factual truth of her question. The deception of many of the colonial statements made in the play, though at first mocking the simpler Aboriginal statements, is instead shown for the insincerity it really is, by drawing from audiences the dialect of humour and suffering needed to make meaning. By the end ...

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