How does the staging of Stolen – including props, lighting, sounds and smells – help represent the characters’ feelings of isolation and dislocation?

Jane Harrison’s play Stolen, based on the Stolen Generation, uses many resources of the theatre to communicate to the audience the emotions of the five central characters that are separated from their Aboriginal families and placed in the Cranby Children’s home. At times through the play it is impossible for the children to comprehend their traumatic experiences through a narrative or dialogue, therefore a prop or the way the stage lights are focussed or not on certain characters enables them to express their emotions. The use of smells and sounds also insists on the participation of the audience to construe actions and comprehend feelings by removing them from their comfort zones.

The children’s feelings of seclusion and displacement are mostly due to their incapability to understand the reasons behind being placed in the Children’s home. During the play the white characters speak but are unable to be seen, remaining distant from the children. The Matron, who denies Jimmy the truth about his mother, is represented by an offstage voice. Anne’s white parents are represented by ‘shadows falling on to a Venetian blind or white sheet’, making them appear as dark shadows while Anne is focussed on with a spotlight. By using the stage lights in such a way, the white figures remain detached and ambiguous and the spotlight shows symbolically how Anne is whitened by growing up in a white household not knowing of her Aboriginal origins.

The minimal use of sets and props present on stage highlights the bleakness of the dormitory and the emptiness in the lives of the children. The continuous slamming of the grey filing cabinet is symbolic of the destruction of Aboriginal families. This signifies the workings of the government to be entirely obscure to Aboriginal people and just another way to control all communications between family members who are separated by the Welfare. A highly significant prop that represents the instability of Ruby is her doll. Ruby often speaks to her doll as though she is a mother, before slipping back into her child-identity. When her cry of “Where are you?” lingers and remains unanswered, she throws the doll on the floor. The doll is a way for Ruby to express the love and caring nature that she longs for from a nurturing mother. By throwing her doll away, Ruby shows that the doll is as easily discarded as these children have been by white society. Another prop that specifies the children’s disarray is the use of Jimmy’s bedhead that draws a connection between the Children’s home and prison. The bed is turned around to face the audience so that the bars are visible and to make them appear as bars of a prison cell. This is an indication and anticipates the place where Jimmy dies, cut off from his family with no hope for the future.

Sounds and smells prove critical in involving the audience to understand and interpret actions. Throughout the entire play Shirley never gives up hope which is evident in ‘Shirley knits for her family’. The continuous sound of the needles clicking together as Shirley knits implies the persistence of her love for her family. This shows Shirley’s longing to be reunited with her family, but it offers no real security or reassurance. The smell of phenol that wafts in to the theatre in the two cleaning scenes is far more confronting for the audience. This reinforces the sterile, institutional atmosphere removing the audience from their comfort zones making them participants rather than spectators.

The five main characters in Stolen are torn away from their Aboriginal families, growing up in a desolate, callous environment. At times their attempts to communicate their feelings and emotions become unbearable so the use of props, sounds, smells and lighting help to make their unspoken words apparent and compelling to the audience.