Bunthorne's Blog

Stewart McGowan's blog

Dystopian SF. As a play? Yep!

Here’s something that I took on as a bit of a challenge: Come unto these yellow sands It’s a short play I wrote for a ‘Play in a Day’ event at Newcastle Theatre Company. I went in with ideas about writing social realism but it finished as dystopian SF!

The challenge of it appealed to me: how do you put SF on stage convincingly? My base was a story I’d written as part of some workshopping with Year 11. An isolated mountain shelter hut, night coming on, one person, alone – and there’s a knock on the door. I’ve added a few of my favourite SF tropes: the rising tide, society without controls, a world without electronics…

It’s set in a school, and it’s my school. Hunter Performing Arts really is built on a reclaimed swamp and was badly damaged in the 2007 floods. So the idea of the school being abandoned because of rising waters and bull sharks hunting in the old stormwater drains isn’t so far from my experiences as I’d like!

SF aficionados will probably pick up on my sources. For others, I found inspiration in a variety of works. Russell Hoban’s Ridley Walker, several of the stories in Jack Dann’s collections Dreaming Down Under and Dreaming Again – particularly the references to the nuclear barges of the Traders come from here. And yes, I’ve always had a fascination with code and code breaking. The misinterpretation of messages is my favourite part of the plot.

I should say something about my decision to write pieces of it in verse. I’ve just finished a major adaptation of Robert Gott’s book, Good Murder, for the stage. The main character’s a Shakespearean actor so it made sense to write a lot of the dialogue as verse. So it was stuck in my head as a pattern while I wrote this. What really strikes me, though, is how well iambic pentameter fits with Australian rhythms and accents. Writing SF for me is about lending significance to events, the metaphorical and metonymic power of the unfamiliar. Adding verse into the dialogue adds to this sense of significance, I think.

The play is free for use in classrooms. Please respect copyright by leaving my name on it if you make copies! If you were to do a production, get in touch with me re the rights. A small donation to a favourite theatre company of mine will probably cover it!

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