At primary school we learnt a North American folk song called Hang Down Your Head, Tom Dooley, about a young man about to be hanged for murdering his girlfriend. The lyrics invite you to lament his early death: Poor boy, you’re gonna die. Another jolly folksong, My Darling Clementine has the narrator ‘missing’ the woman he’s murdered until he kissed her pretty sister and forgot his Clementine. As a seven-year-old belting these words out in class, these songs disturbed me, but I couldn’t articulate my sense of their unfairness.
The concept of ‘crime of passion’, a concept which meant a man could expect leniency when being sentenced for murder if he had been ‘provoked’ by a woman’s behaviour, driven to temporary insanity by her infidelity, say, was applied across the globe, notably in Brazil, France and Italy and Latin America.
Here in Australia the defence of ‘provocation’, was used to convert murder charges to the less heavily penalised crime of manslaughter, and was still a legal defence in at least one state of Australia up until 2014.
Judy Doubas’ play, Strategy, is based on a real-life case where a man who kills his estranged wife is convicted of manslaughter rather than murder using the defence of provocation. In court the killer’s experience becomes the focus, not his crime or the woman he’s killed, and Doubas’ play expresses this succinctly and elegantly, letting the story tell itself. The play is a four-hander. Sarah Crock plays Jo, the victim and her twin in moving performances, while Rowan Francis plays the murderer Charles and Jeremy Skuse the prosecuting barrister.
As we know, women in violent relationships are in most danger when they are about to leave or have left their abuser; this is the case here. The writer’s intention is to give Woman the voice she was denied in court and Strategy does this effectively and powerfully. The set (by Lisa Inman) is simple with a backdrop and three boxes covered in newspaper headlines, highlighting the misuse of language when reporting crimes against women, where the focus is on the victim or the situation, silently placing the perpetrator to one side: ‘elderly woman bashed in street’ rather than ‘man assaults pensioner’.
We know the statistics, we know how our society has for so long protected men and resisted naming the cultural basis of male violence agesainst women and children. Doubas’ play is a significant contribution to the conversation. She’s a writer to watch out for; I was impressed with the strong economical text of Strategy. This season of Stategy is only a short one, finishing on Sunday March 11, so let’s hope this play gets another run soon. In the meantime, Doubas' next work, Femme Play, a feminist comedy, is about to be performed in rehearsed reading at La Mama. I strongly recommend checking it out.
With Attitude presents
by Judy Doubas
Director Lisa Inman
Venue: Northcote Town Hall | High Street, Northcote
Dates: 9 – 11 March 2018
Tickets: $35 – $30