Transformation and the Search for Truth in Hannie Rayson’s Hotel Sorrento Analysis

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Consider Rayson’s subtle treatment of the everyday as a means of exploring deeper realities. ‘At the core of this play is a family struggling with loyalty, loyalty to each other and loyalty to their own story. ’ Dr Tess Brady Hotel Sorrento, written by Hannie Rayson, is an analysis of human relationships within a family structure. The play encourages an ownership without the need to hide in the belief of not being good enough, and without the illusion that a superior group exists which is dominated by a minority.

Rayson expresses these flaws and faults that are present in human existence through her portrayal of the unpredictable nature of a family. She emphasises a family’s capacity to postpone the settling of conflicts and stresses the idea that Australians are unable to express passion. The play attempts to articulate an Australian identity and suggests that the experience of living elsewhere alters a person’s perception of home. The main themes and ideas are loyalty, betrayal and truth from the perspective of an expatriate, Meg, and examines to what degree should we criticise or accept the faults of our country and of our loved ones. Australianplays. org) Rayson was born in Melbourne, Victoria and graduated from the University of Melbourne and the Victorian College of Arts. She was a freelance journalist and editor in addition to her primary career as playwright and screenwriter. Rayson was the co-founder Theatreworks in Melbourne’s eastern suburb of St. Kilda, working there for four years while writing. Rayson has been writer-in-residence at Geelong’s Mill Theatre, and Monash University.

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Recognised as one of Australia’s most significant playwrights, Rayson’s first major success was Hotel Sorrento, which won several prizes including the Australian Writers Guild Award. The play has become an Australian classic, regularly performed by regional theatre groups, and appearing in university courses and on the high school syllabus. The film of the play, directed by Richard Franklin, won an AFI Award for best screenplay (Peter Fitzpatrick and Franklin). In 2010, the play’s London debut won critical acclaim. New Rayson plays have been a popular mainstay of Australian state theatre companies’ programming for the past decade.

Her more recent works are Falling from Grace, Scenes from a Separation (written with Andrew Bovell), Competitive Tenderness, Life After George, Inheritance, The Glass Soldier and The Swimming Club. Rayson’s commitment to plays that engage with social issues was most evident in her 2005 work Two Brothers, an attack on the hardline asylum seeker policy of Australia’s conservative Howard government. The play provoked bitter controversy, especially from people who saw its central character, a ruthless politician, as a cruel parody of Australia’s deputy prime minister, Peter Costello.

Rayson claimed that Costello, who had played no part in asylum seeker policy, was not her target: she was satirising the government as a whole, and exploring the phenomenon of the family rent by political division and sexual tension. Hannie Rayson explores the idea of feminism and the role of men in the 1990’s through the exploration of the relationships of three very different sisters, Meg, Pippa and Hilary. She is concerned with posing questions rather than answering them. She wants to activate and engage us as an audience inviting us on a journey of genuine enquiry.

Rayson poses a number of questions; What changes have taken place during the last decade? Where is the line between a healthy nationalism and blind patriotism? Is our literature profound and passionate? And How far have we come in terms of our quest to articulate an Australian identity? One of Hannie Rayson’s main issues in her play Hotel Sorrento is the characters’ need to face the truth about themselves and the past. This issue is present throughout the play through the themes of loyalty and truth and the intimate bond between sisters, to reinforce the powerful link between literature and real life.

Rayson also views the nature of Australian identity, the relationship between cultural identity and literature and the power of art to transform. Rayson investigates the theme of loyalty, truth and betrayal through the characters’ need to face the reality of the past. Each character voices an opinion on which they see to be more important, truth or loyalty. (Marriner) The play develops and the sisters realise they must begin to confront their past and set aside loyalty so that they can reconcile their differences and begin to enjoy the future. This is shown through Meg’s conflict of emotions when dealing with her country and family. If you ask the average Brit what he knows about Australia, he’ll probably say Fosters and vomit. The trouble is that your average Aussie bloke on the loose in London regardless of whether he’s backpacking or wheeling and dealing, does nothing to dispel this image. When I meet Australians over here I take some comfort in the fact that it is only a minor outbreak. At home we’re talking epidemic! ” Because of the high regard Australians hold for loyalty and mate ship Meg was unable to confront her past. Wal was brought up believing that loyalty was “unassailable” even if it meant sacrificing the truth.

Australian ideals and beliefs have destroyed Meg’s family and in the process she has lost her respect for Australian men and Australian culture and uses her identity as an expatriate to condemn them. (Steyn) Wal suggests Meg’s status as an expatriate also stems from the sisters’ inability to deal with the past. Because she was unable to confront the truth surrounding Gary’s death due to what she believed to be loyalty toward her family Meg was forced to escape Australia’s suffocating culture. Family is defined in this play as a group of people who are dependent on one another by trust and loyalty.

However, the Moynihan family is so broken by trust and loyalty that it almost ceases to exist; “What family?… There is no family anymore. ” Torn a part by the past which none of the family members were brave enough to speak of until catalyst Troy, a young curious son of Hilary pushes the limit. Enabling a sense of peace to be brought back with the terrifying past. Rayson portrays Meg as never being fully forgiven by sister Pippa who she argues that they still own the story, referring to integrity, Meg states that “But I always thought that integrity was something that couldn’t be given or taken away.

That it was the only thing that a person could own. ” Confirming that although Meg used their story, they still have each other, or at least their integrity. Through the play Hotel Sorrento, we are given a cross-section of contemporary Australian culture, and a third-person insight into the family unit. From this, we have discovered that ownership of the past has a price to be paid, family forms the basis of one’s perception and that even a piece of literature can tear a family apart. Themes such as ownership, family and iterature woven together by Rayson through ‘Hotel Sorrento’ provide a better understanding of the extent to which Australian culture has grown. Through Meg’s expatriate eyes Rayson looks at the changes that Australian culture and identity has undergone therefore, Meg sees Australia as a country that “honors ordinariness” and is “rife with xenophobia and anti-intellectualism. ” This is a very limited view of Australian life and relies heavily on her family influences of drinking, fishing, mate ship and the role of the mother.

Australian identity is an important issue in the play and it is shown through the characters of Marge, Dick and Edwin. Each character’s opinions are influenced by their relationship with Meg and her novel. For example Edwin’s view on Australian identity, becomes contradictory through the play. He begins to recognise Meg’s need to accept her identity as an Australian so that her family can begin to reconcile their differences. As he begins to realise that Australia and Sorrento are an important part of Meg’s life, his views on Australian culture begin to soften.

Rayson depicts the social norm by putting women in the driving seat and presents them as the primary motors of the action and commentators who direct the audience’s understanding of the males and their actions by questioning gender. In effect the central movement of the play is the sisters’ shift from their attempts to redefine, or resolve the past in terms of their common relationship with the men who dominated their lives, to their concern with the present. Pip, Meg and Hilary all come to terms with the common truth of the past although they have differing perspectives and different intentions and concerns in mind.

Nonetheless, once they share this common discourse, their concern with the male dominated past is replaced by their attempts to frame their common legacy as it defines themselves as individuals and as a family. Again, the power struggle between the sisters over the house draws attention to the differing values of the sisters, and how they embody contemporary women’s choices. Meg is concerned with the question of identity and the debate around belonging, concerned with how one’s past frames one, wishing to contest how notions of origin, nation and family determine the self. (Varney)

This is essentially the heart of Rayson’s intentions with the play. Meg is the main character who embodies most of the main themes and issues within her character. Through her family dynamic she is able to explore the nitty gritty elements in family relationships. She is constantly searching for truth, mainly through her novel, ‘Melancholy’ in which she claims is not a real life depiction of her family. In the play, we see a weaving of cultural identity through several layers of narrative. Ideas about loyalty and betrayal are explored from the perspective of Meg in her response to the country of her birth.

There are a number of recognisable character stereotypes, a ‘Pom’ who reveals an unconditional love, the hard-edged New Yorker advertising executive and an outspoken feminist who has a center both fragile and lonely. Then there is the character of Marge, who both partakes and observes the dramatic action. She provides an audience to offer comment on the events of daily life. The theme of ownership is very important and the family becomes a metaphor for Australia. Just as a family must look at itself in a new light from time to time, so must a nation.

From the perspective of Meg, there is a love/hate relationship with her family and her country. She questions the male dominance of this country. Rayson states, “There is something delectable about melancholy which seems to alter the way we see things”. (Rayson) Here, she is describing Meg’s character as a whole, in her reference to her novel. The majority of Rayson’s plays deal with contemporary social phenomena and pose questions to the reader while confusing them with obvious contradictions. She believes that doing this helps her to activate and engage the audience.

The core of Hotel Sorrento is how far we have come in our quest to articulate Australia’s identity and changes that have taken place in the past decade. Through Meg’s character, she is able to explore how living somewhere other than Australia, alters the perception of home. Rayson poses the conflicting question of ‘where is the line between a healthy nationalism and blind patriotism? ”. In response to the question, she focused of the relationship between cultural identities versus literature in holding a mirror to reflect ourselves as a nation and all that it stands for.

Rayson aimed to explore cultural identity through the narrative to explore the idea of loyalty and betrayal from the perspective of and expatriates response to her country, fiction and family. The idea behind using a novelist as the central character formed the backbone of the play. Rayson wanted to create a character with strong opinions that were to be shown through her passions and outspoken nature and to reflect Rayon’s own affections and frustrations of Australia. The reason for choosing a family dynamic to express this was that ‘few other relationships can inspire such loyalty or such anger as sisters.

Sisters can experience great closeness, but when they fall out, the conflicts got deeper too. ” In conclusion, Literature is a form of written art that represents the writer’s philosophy of various aspects of life. Rayson uses an expatriate as the protagonist to explore the distance between Australia and it’s cultural identity. Nevertheless, the novel ‘Melancholy’ in Hotel Sorrento is a device for conflict. Reinforcing the link between fiction and reality, the need for the Moynihan sisters to accept what has passed and move on, just as Hilary promises her son that they would soon be able to look back and say “This is what happened. Rayson’s use of a novel as a ‘backbone’ to her story demonstrates her appreciation of literature as a work of art and it’s ability to transform. Rayson explores deeper realities through the Moynihan family dynamic and exposes all their strengths and weaknesses and how each character goes on an individual journey of discovery, The family goes through many ups and downs but after everything is finally laid out on the table they are able to move on with their lives and have learnt a very valuable lesson of truth. ——————————————– [ 1 ]. Hotel Sorrento, Hannie Rayson

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Transformation and the Search for Truth in Hannie Rayson’s Hotel Sorrento Analysis. (2016, Nov 13). Retrieved from

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