Wrong Way Go Back: John Romeril on The Floating World (Part Two)


“That The Floating World isn’t an even-handed play is a given.”

The Comic in an early production of The Floating World

The ‘Entertainment Officer’ in an early production of The Floating World.

In the second of three blogs, playwright John Romeril responds to one sociologist’s reaction to his play The Floating World in 1975, and elaborates on his homage to Japanese theatre.

My first blog recalled a sociologist bad-mouthing The Floating World in the Sydney Morning Herald on racist grounds in 1975. His critique focussed on my play’s apparently anti-Japanese sentiments.

For the record, in advance of the Australian Performing Group mounting the play’s first production in 1974, Wilfred Last, in the original Melbourne cast, warned against presenting a jingoistic rant. I took certain steps to moderate how xenophobic my play might seem.

Robert Faggetter as Les in the Perth Playhouse production of The Floating World(1975)

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

That The Floating Worldisn’t an even-handed play is a given. I depict World War II through the eyes of Les Harding. But to counter-weight his ‘bias’ I employed research I’d done while constructing the play. Certain letters and diary entries penned by low-ranking Japanese soldiers figure in the script. In Tarawa for example, as the tide of war moved against Japan, the sons of Nippon – like Les – faced captivity and deprivation. Their witness I wove into the mix.

A ghost scene entitled ‘Khaki and Green’ was also core business for me. My hung-over hero wakes in his cabin and sees before him Gavin McLeod (deceased). His World War II comrade suggests Les, in taking a Cherry Blossom Cruise in 1974 is scabbing on his mates. Les protests: “It’s a different world we live in. It’s dead and buried all that. You can’t stand still. Life goes on.” It’s when that stops making sense to Les that his descent into madness begins.

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).

A final thought regarding that sociology lecturer. Had he heard the words but missed the picture? In actual fact my play seeks to emulate what I knew – close to forty years ago – of Noh theatre technique. Visitations by figures who turn out to be ghosts. Sword-play. Passages of percussively supported narration and spectacle. History (the taking of the Malay Peninsula and the fall of Singapore) is sketched in a dance-like fashion. While I was taking Japan’s militarists to task I was also, homage-fashion, mounting a salute to the rich artistry of that country’s theatre history.

John Romeril, September 2013

Images provided by Currency Press