Festival Review: In The Club

Festival Review: In The Club

Commissioned by State Theatre Company S.A. to write a work which examines the world of Australian Rules football and the varieties of sexual misconduct found within it, playwright Patricia Cornelius has written an intricate and elegant 6-hander which plays like chamber music.

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Presented by State Theatre Company South Australia
Reviewed 28th February, 2018

Commissioned by State Theatre Company S.A. to write a work which examines the world of Australian Rules football and the varieties of sexual misconduct found within it, playwright Patricia Cornelius has written an intricate and elegant 6-hander which plays like chamber music.

This is as far removed from Williamson’s The Club as it is possible to be. Three men and three women speak and move in constantly varied configurations on a wide-open bare black stage enclosed on three sides by skewed parallel lines. The floor is water. All of it. Around three centimetres deep. Actors are barefoot. Clever Geoff Cobham, set and lighting designer, has gone to town. Light ripples and bounces around the stage, and the floor perfectly reflects the action in still moments. No accident that there are reflective moments in this piece.

The show begins with each of the three women delivering a long monologue directly to the audience. It’s got a “straight to camera” feel. Miranda Daughtry, a world away from her luminous Nora in A Dolls’ House last year, begins. She is Annie, a dark sliver of intractable defiance in shiny satin shorts. Her voice is angry Ocker. As a passionate and informed teenage supporter of her team (“her boys”, she calls them), Annie longs to speak with her heroes about the game and its technicalities; she simply loves her footy club with a passion. Next to speak is Olivia, played by Rachel Burke as an articulate, optimistic arts undergrad in a red pantsuit. Olivia is thoughtful, unsure of her own opinions and keen to find her place within the world. The third woman of the trio is Anna Steen, all cheek and cheekbones, playing Ruby, the oldest of the three. Her character is knowing, pragmatic and a straight talker; “I’m only in it for the sex”, is her explanation for being there where the footballers gather to let off steam after a game. Ruby harbours no doubt in her mind as to her desirability, and her skill as a seducer. She sees her position as one of power, where she calls the shots and chooses her victims.

Having set up the three female archetypes, Cornelius proceeds to introduce the men. At first, they are simply an undifferentiated bunch of footballers from the club, mere male ciphers. As the action progresses, each man is defined by his words and his actions, making the inevitably complex, poignant and brutal outcomes ambivalent and unsatisfactory for all. Dale March’s character, Sean, transforms from a buff, mouthy ruck-rover to a pin-point of anger, shrivelled and bitter. His final confrontation with Miranda Daughtry is nothing short of electric. James, played by Nathan O’Keefe, is a senior player in his last active season. He transforms too – from confident, testosterone-fuelled full-forward to a hull of a man, excoriated by Anna Steen’s verbal contempt. And Rashidi Edward, whose warm and slightly gauche Angus is a quiet surprise, transforms from useful young full-back to a distraught and disempowered man.

The women – Daughtry, Burke and Steen – transform too, as each character follows her inevitable trajectory. All women are wonderful actors; their disparity is their strength. One of the strongest images in the work occurs near the end, as Rachel Burke, lying in foetal position, says “No-one looks at me… like I don’t exist”. Her raw face is as vulnerable as a young Blanchett.

A word about sound; composer Gazelle Twin (aka Elizabeth Bernholz) and sound designer Andrew Howard have together built a subtly supportive sonic frame for this most Australian of Greek tragedies.

Patricia Cornelius has written an intelligent fable for our times, using overlapping speeches, intricate choral segments and whip-smart ripostes. Language is accessible, clear, and chosen with a contemporary ear. As a result, the direction (by Geordie Brookman, with associate director Suzannah Kennett Lister) is meticulously light-handed, in order to preserve Cornelius’ flow of language and action.  Neither bashing men nor glorifying women, the wisdom and humanity of this play will enable many future would-be actors and actresses to get into NIDA on the strength of their audition monologue from In The Club.

Reviewed by Pat. H. Wilson

Venue:  Odeon Theatre, Norwood
Season:  Until 18th March 2018
Duration:  90 minutes
Tickets:  Full Price: $76:00 Concession: $66:00
Bookings: https://www.adelaidefestival.com.au/2018/in-the-club

 

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