‘Cass Butcher Bunting’ begins with an explosion and a cave in down a mine shaft. Three miners are trapped there; Cass, the local golden boy, Butcher, the mentally-heavy, stay-at-home product of a small mining community, and Bunting, the old-timer, the ‘humpy’.
The setting of the action deep in the bowels of the earth places so-called civilised man back in a primordial situation, in a closed-off cave, his only mental and moral buffer lying in having to fall back on his ownself, his own primitiveness – and where he can only play out his own tragedy as death becomes increasingly inevitable.
Man’s fundamental inhumanity to man is a major theme explored in this play. The exchanges between Cass and Butcher and their varying reactions to each other can be seen as subtle revelations of aspects of this inhumanity in a situation as extreme as imaginable. Bunting’s ravings are reminders that in the modern world this selfsame inhumanity is most often expressed in cruelty.
Unarguably it is in the face of this impending end that man, with nothing more to lose, can step out from behind his everyday mask and reveal his needs and his weaknesses, acknowledge and accept his failures. Between the simple social comment suggested by one reviewer as a ‘powerful exposé of a small community’ and the consideration of death (‘it’s simply about dying’) put forward by the playwright lie a number of layers of meaning which the individual member of the audience or reader will find for himself.
(Mary Lord, convener, Alexander Playwriting
Competition, Monash University)
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Bill Reed is an award-winning novelist, playwright and short-story writer who lived within the Australian literary and publishing worlds. He now lives outside its gates, mainly in Sri Lanka