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Hannie Rayson's Inheritance

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HANNIE RAYSON'S Inheritance is predominantly about divisions. It is set in Victoria's Mallee, one of the few regions to represent most accurately the "typical" bush of our mythic past. It is the 21st century: more than 85 per cent of Australians inhabit the urban areas sprawling along the coasts, and more and more rural areas struggle to survive. The first half of the play concerns a celebration - twins Girlie Delaney and Dibs Hamilton are celebrating their 80th birthdays, and with the gathering of their families comes the eruption of simmering resentments and anxieties about the future of Dibs and Farley Hamilton's farm, Allandale. The second half starts with a funeral and portrays the shattering of the tenuous links that held the family together. Rayson's structure of 54 short scenes reflects the fracturing of the family and its fortunes. Characters are disaffected and isolated; there is a turning away from others, symbolised by the dissipation of the farm to fund Maureen's Hansonist political career. The first act ends with a fight between Nugget and Lyle; the second act demonstrates that each is defeated, as Farley's death exposes the fissures in his family. But, Rayson suggests, Nugget has more resources, greater flexibility with which to respond to change and loss than Lyle, whose inarticulate puzzlement in the face of change paralyses him. To an extent, the characters in the play represent aspects of the Australian identity and experience. However, Rayson's vivid grasp of speech patterns to evoke character, and her ability to manipulate the audience with humour and pathos move the text beyond mere polemic and stereotype. In an almost Brechtian way, she positions us to analyse as we are entertained and moved. The characters address the audience; the fast movement from scene to scene juxtaposing past and present and prevents us from identifying with particular characters, forcing us to assess their points of view; there are few characters who fail to repel us, as they display truly human complexity and fallibility. That fallibility is usually associated with greed and a ruthless disregard for the needs of others. Emotional needs are rarely acknowledged by those most concerned with taking what they maintain is theirs, and this confusion of feeling and finance contributes to the play's ultimate bleak mood. The title Inheritance is an ironic reminder that the sins of the fathers are visited on the children, that: "He that troubleth his own house shall inherit the wind." The house of old Norm Myrtle is indeed troubled, as we see in the families of his daughters, Dibs and Girlie. The Hamiltons and Delaneys are divided, and struggling in different ways to keep their land, land that Rayson

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