Wrong Way Go Back: John Romeril on The Floating World


“In my head The Floating World is a Wrong Way Go Back traffic sign.”

Scarlett Waters

Laurence Hodge as Les Harding in the Nimrod Theatre Company production of The Floating World, directed by Ken Horler (1975).

In the first of three blogs, playwright John Romeril writes about one sociologist’s reaction to his play The Floating World in 1975, and subsequent productions by Japanese theatre makers.

In 1975, the first Sydney production of The Floating World flushed a Letter to the Editor in the Sydney Morning Herald. A sociology lecturer damned my play for its anti-Japanese tenor. I likened him to a bad film critic: hears the words – doesn’t get the picture.

In my head The Floating World is a Wrong Way Go Back traffic sign. In my head the key message over-riding all others is ‘Lest We Forget’. In my head the damage done, and the long-term fall-out nations impose on each other in going to war is a cost so colossal it should gentle us all.

Scarlett Waters

Frederick Parslow as Les Harding in the Melbourne Theatre Company production of The Floating World, directed by Graeme Blundell (1982).

Les Harding, the ex-PoW I depict suffered at the hands of the Japanese. Got carted to hell, came back a barely walking skeleton. How detrimental to the terms of trade, and how politically incorrect is the spit and snarl of his racism given that biography? Had I in giving Les the oxygen of the stage and trying to plumb what he’d gone through, endorsed his views? “A lot of forget – not much forgive”.

In 2013 I wonder what that Sydney-based sociologist would make of my play being translated into Japanese in 1995? Of it being staged at that year’s Tokyo Festival in the prestigious Tokyo Metropolitan Art Space (well on from The Stables I assure you)? And what too can we say of that production of The Floating World travelling onto the Melbourne Festival and performed in Japanese for audiences at the Malthouse?

The Floating World

Robert Faggetter and Margarie Fletcher as Les and Irene Harding in the Perth Playhouse Theatre production of The Floating World, directed by Mike Morris (1975).

Interesting too to ask, with an eye on the ‘sociology of cross-cultural contact’, what lay behind director Satoh Makoto opting to stage my play? Makoto-san’s great uncle had been a high-ranking military man; and a member of the Emperor’s War Cabinet; and chose suicide above dishonor when Japan sued for peace in 1945.

Had my modern-day Japanese theatre compatriots proved themselves (like me) against forgetting?

John Romeril, September 2013

Images provided by Currency Press