Caryl Churchill’s play Far Away and Jane Taylor’s Ubu and the Truth Commission
Caryl Churchill’s play Far Away and Jane Taylor’s Ubu and the Truth Commission are two plays that both concern violent, corrupt political systems, but each playwright goes about confronting these issues in a quite different style. Jane Taylor structures her work with an omniscient perspective that allows the audience to see the reality of what is happening at all times, while Churchill utilizes a limited perspective that leaves the audience as unaware of the truth as her characters. These approaches result in two plays that are very different in character, but at the same time, both of the works successfully create a similar uneasy, frightening atmosphere that is effective in impressing upon the audience the dangers and injustices of such violent governments
Ubu, the main character of Ubu and the Truth Commission, is a corrupt dictator faced with the ramifications of the cruel and violent actions of his government. Throughout the play he grapples with truth; during the course of the action he hesitates about telling the truth about his involvement in the affairs, tries to cover up the evidence, and ultimately gives false testimony, claiming innocence. In the end his dishonesty prevails, and the truth commission fails. The political head and the military leader head of Brutus escape punishment while the army head is done away with, and Ubu himself is let off his charges. The final scene closes on Ubu, his wife, and Niles, the crocodile representing the rich white population, sailing away free directly in the face of an eye symbolizing truth. Despite the failure of truth in this play, the facts are not hidden from the audience – Taylor leaves no doubt about the truth of Ubu’s involvement in the terrorizing government. In a sense, the audience has a bird’s eye view that enables an appreciation for such ironies as the eye/sun in the final scene and the scene title “Ubu Tells The Truth.” An important part of this omniscient point of view is the vulture – the bird is an outside source of truth unrelated to the action of the play.
Though one of the most prominent themes of Far Away is also truth, the audience views the action of the play from a completely different perspective than in Ubu. From the beginning of the play to the end, we sense that something is wrong, that something malicious is being covered up, but we are never fully aware of what that is. We may let our imaginations wander, but in the end we can never know exactly what the government is doing. Churchill purposely puts us in this position by showing us fragments of the lives of the characters. These fragments may be important moments, but they are nonetheless incomplete. Also, they are immersed in the world that characters live in; in other words, we see everything from the characters’ points of view. Therefore we see not the actual truth of the situation but only what Joan, Harper,...