Playwrights elsewhere: United Kingdom (Learner)

What do playwrights in other parts of the world write about?

Tobsha Learner grew up in England, lived in Australia for a long time, and for a few years in the United States, too, before moving back to England. After a long abstinence from the theatre, she recently wrote a short play again. But is this a British play? An Australian one?

Three characters represent the parties in the most recent invasion of Indonesian troops in East Timor in 1999. In her play CAGE, a young Australian soldier has been left behind by his platoon to guard a prisoner, a not-so-young Indonesian commander. While both are on a clearing discussing whether the captive should be set free, the Indonesian troops are audibly approaching. After the soldier has knocked out the captive in his cage, a young East-Timorese woman steps forth from the shrubs. She claims that the captive had led the massacre in her village, killing her husband and her child, while she was able to escape. Now she is bound to kill him. Her need for revenge stands against the soldier’s mission to bring the captive to trial. When the man in the cage comes to again, he tells a different story: the woman was his girlfriend whom he, being „bored“, has left, and who now seeks revenge for the offence. There had been no massacre, he claims, rather had the village seized the opportunity of the invasion to end a tribal feud with their next-door neighbours with a mass-killing which they could now blame on the invaders.

The characters gain and lose control of the situation in rapid succession up to the tragic end of the play, and equally quickly, the variations on the never disclosed truth change.

In 1999, the Howard administration sold Australia’s military intervention in East Timor as a mission to protect the population there from the terror of the Indonesian-led militias. Critics, however, found the motifs in Australia’s economic interests in controlling the Indonesian archipelago, which is rich in resources. As often, the conflict was complex. Indonesia’s invasion of East Timor in 1975 had been welcomed by Australia, the military training of the Junta army tightly aided by Australian and U.S. Special Forces.

These forces were responsible for terror and oppression of the East Timorese population. Now these same people were to be protected from the oppression of the military and trade partners? An enormous media campaign prepared the public for this very-hard-to-believe strategy, and the distortion of the truth is reflected in the perspectives of the characters in the play.

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