Thursday, December 23, 2010

Character as Prop

I was watching the penultimate episode of the Australian television series Rake last week which apparently is well liked by those who, well, like that sort of thing. Putting aside the absence of an 'A' story (or any story really) and whether it was a comedy or a drama, there were two scenes that reminded me of an observation a local writer made about a scene in the much lauded Underbelly 1. Which was this:

There was a scene set in an old suburban sporting grandstand where 5-6 thugs were meeting to discuss things that underworld figures discuss in grandstands. The writer's observation was this - not one of them was drinking a choc milk or reading the paper or doing anything normal people would be doing sitting in a suburban grandstand (talking about abnormal things). It was if they had been arranged for a photo shoot - which indeed they had been. It was an astute observation.

Onto Rake, which stars Richard Roxburgh as a larrikin lawyer who... I'm not quite sure what the end of that sentence is... but anyway.

The two scenes that reminded me of the 'character as prop' observation were these:

Rake goes into a Chemist with a raging headache and asks for suitable relief. The Chemist, apparently baffled by this complex request, vacates the scene to go out the back. Why? Because two robbers are about to enter, one of whom will clout our hero over the scone then cause the comical demise of his mate. That business resolved, the Chemist returns. He was not a character, merely a prop to be moved about by the writer as required. It totally jarred and was more than faintly ridiculous.

Which leads us to the next scene where Rake is getting stitches by, I presume, a nurse. They have a conversation then another man enters who harangues Rake about something or other. Not once did the 'nurse' even look at the interloper, ask who he was, politely state, "you're not allowed back here, Sir" or "who are you?" or "do you mind?" until he takes offence at something Rake says and we get her reaction shot. He hurriedly explains, "he slept with my wife" or such like. Again, that actor was there to recite her lines on cue and react when required. It was if a vase of flowers was stitching up our hero for all the life that character had.

Maybe they're small grievances - and sure, I'm probably as guilty as the next writer of doing such things - but it can really jar and take you straight out of the scene. Once that suspension of disbelief is destroyed it's so hard to win back.

So make sure your secondary characters have a damn good reason to be in the scene other than being a prop for the main character. Make sure they react to the given circumstances of the scene otherwise they look like they're just waiting to hit a mark or recite a line which is death for compelling drama...

If indeed that's what Rake is supposed to be...

1 comment:

  1. You can have archetypes to support archetypes; see Kal Bashir's 510+ stage hero's journey at