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Teaching Australian Gothic Theatre through Angela Betzien
Compiled by Bryce Berrell
(Status : Public)
Coordinated by Intern Exhibitions
  • Gothic Theatre in Australia

  • Australian Gothic Landscape

    The eighteenth and nineteenth centuries saw the Gothic start emerging throughout the world. It had many themes and tropes that were easily identifiable and this is where theatrical elements started to become their own Gothic. In 1863, in Australia, the concentration of texts started to emerge from an external source which included psychological or political 'haunting', to the sudden availability of particular staging technology (Mr Pepper and Professor Bushell Ghost Effect) that allows ghostly and haunting effects to occur (Carleton, Mapping 17). Arriving at the 1880s, the Gothic surged with paranormal themes (such as - hypnotism and somnambulism) which aligned themselves with the rise of Freudian psychology and the Victorian era (Carleton, Mapping 18). However, it wasn't until the mid-1880s that we saw the emergence of localised Gothic theatre (Carleton, Mapping 18).

    Stephen Carleton highlights "that the Gothic is difficult to define. Where agreement does occur is in the realm of the psychological" (Carleton, Theatre 51-2). Furthermore, he states that even though Gothic is difficult to define, it is "much more capable of being identified in specific regional, cultural and political context." (Carleton, Theatre 52). In Carleton's most recent article, he explores this 'identifiable' statement by providing readers with a concrete definition of Australian Gothic that Cox's presents. To Cox, this genre is about

    "a re-emergence of the traumatic past into the present; and an uncanny return of the psychological repressed, which enable metaphoric readings in the theatrical mise-en-scene being represented in particular plays" (Carleton, Mapping 15).

    Carleton also highlights that Cox divides Australian Gothic into three sub-sections, these include: numinous, psychological and political-mythological (Carleton, Mapping 15). Over the years, Gothic has arisen historically as a literary or theatrical response to social rupture and cultural anxieties (Carleton, Mapping 13). Australian Gothic explores in many ways "the retelling again and again of stories that bear a particular religious , social or political significance for their public" (Carleton, Mapping 11). Australian Gothic draws on the past through a present lens, providing exploration of the terror, trauma and guilt of national history during postcoloniality. Gerry Turcotte furthers this in stating that Australian Gothic is about

    "horror, uncertainty and desperation of the human experience, often representing the solitariness of that experience through characters trapped in a hostile environment, or pursued by an unspecified or unidentifiable danger." (Turcotte 11)

    In analysis of the landscape evident in the plays and from compiling research, Northern Australia is the most commonly portrayed landscape within Australian Gothic theatre. Turcotte explores this idea in saying that the Gothic "turned to the specifications of the domestic landscape and voice to articulate the fear and exhilaration of the colonial condition" (Turcotte 12). In doing so, Australian Gothic is born through "isolation, entrapment, fear of pursuit and fear of the unknown. And for each, the possibility of transformation, of surviving the dislocation, acts as a driving hope." (Turcotte 11). Carleton engages with the north in stating that it is

    "a continuation of the isolated heroine-villain and lost child motifs of the Australian Bush Gothic tradition... and the emergence of Gothic works underpinned by psychological explorations of White guilt in relation to Aboriginal dispossession and maltreatment" (Carleton, Mapping 28).

    Turcotte interestingly highlights the particular voice that is incorporated in studying Australian Gothic. His idea is that the genre establishes "a local Australian voice" (Turcotte 18). Furthermore, what people forget about Australian Gothic is the perceived voice that is a silencing discourse, "such as the Aboriginal people of Australia." (Turcotte 18).

    Twenty-first century Australian Gothic drama emerges as "a distinct modality in the Australian North as a very recent and distinctly theatrical phenomenon" (Stadler et al. 88). It reflects the past by bringing it into the future using themes such as repression, haunting, ghosts, suffering, guilt and trauma. However, Carleton summarises the Australian Gothic landscape with an intriguing insight. Australian Gothic theatre includes the

    "psychological and political counter-insurgency, owing in no small part perhaps to the view that this under-acknowledged national shame and trauma is erupting again into the present during this two-decade period; it is a returning of the national repressed in relation to foundational settlement mythologies - terra nullius central among them - and represents a contemporary haunting of the present by the ghosts of reconciled historical deeds and narratives." (Carleton, Mapping 30).

  • Searches on the AustLit Database for Australian Gothic

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