The Village Bike | Red Stitch Actors TheatreProvocative, sexy and hilarious, British playwright Penelope Skinner’s play The Village Bike has burst on to the Australian stage in Red Stitch Theatre’s latest production. In the intimacy of their St Kilda theatre, the ensemble, directed by Ngaire Dawn Fair, cranks up this well-written exposé of female sexual desire with a raw physicality and a fine sense of comedy that has the audience either rapt or in stitches.

With her obvious love of innuendo, Skinner takes the term ‘the village bike’ (meaning a slut anyone can ride) and creates a character with a voracious sexual appetite, puts her in a village, and watches what happens. Becky, a young married teacher, played by Ella Caldwell (Artistic Director of Red Stitch), has moved to the country with her husband, John, played by guest actor Richard Davies. Becky is pregnant. Subverting expectations, especially those of her husband, her appetite for sex has increased. He refuses to watch porn or be cajoled to have sex, afraid of hurting the baby, he says. Becky is restless and frustrated, her needs unmet by her overprotective husband, and she is determined to break free. She buys a second-hand bike.

From this premise, Skinner goes on to break sexual taboos, reverse gender stereotypes and expose the untrammelled sexual desires of a woman. The result is funny, liberating and sinister. Is a woman’s libido as urgent and demanding as a man’s? Is it prone to the same fantasies and cruelties? The play takes on a trajectory that is not unlike riding a bike without brakes. We follow Becky into some dark and disturbing territory.

Written in 2011, the play reflects our culture where sexting and porn are available at the touch of a button and where women and men are both capable of predatory behaviour. Where, in our new-found sexual freedom, do we draw the line? From the outset, Skinner explores these issues and conflicts in dialogue that is naturalistic, witty and finely paced, but, now she has opened Pandora’s box, the demons are let loose. The second act sacrifices the subtle explorations of sexuality to primal urges.

On the cleverly conceived and realistic set, the play begins on the upper level, in the bedroom, with Becky and John. Caldwell gives Becky an athleticism, a reckless vitality that sweeps the play, and her fate, along. More brazen than innocent, she still invokes sympathy with the shock of recognition. By Act Two, her energy borders on the manic. Caldwell embodies the desperation Becky feels in the face of her husband’s patronising manner and avoidance of her desires. Davies plays John, the zealous environmentalist and sentimental dad-to-be, as a foil to the feisty Caldwell. He succeeds in being loveable and irritating at the same time and providing a delicious comedic touch.

It is a stellar cast, with four guest actors. As the stud, Oliver, Matt Dyktynski is slow to take on his character, but comes into his own in Act Two with a virile and raunchy performance that takes the play into its tragic spiral. Natasha Herbert relishes the role of the annoying neighbour Jenny, milking the misunderstandings and double entendres to perfection. Syd Brisbane is more low-key but equally brilliant as the plumber, come to ‘fix Becky’s pipes’. His every glance and word reveal him as a lonely, lustful and ordinary man. It is he, the ordinary man, who has the last word, or rather action – no spoiler, wait and see.

Red Stitch’s performance has the tension, comedic timing and passionate energy to make this confronting tragi-comedy sizzle. It may not be a completely satisfying play, but it breaks taboos and raises questions about sexuality and relationships that ensure the after-play conversations are lively and empowering.

Red Stitch Actors Theatre presents
The Village Bike
by Penelope Skinner

Directed by Ngaire Dawn Fair

Venue: Red Stitch Actors Theatre |  Rear 2 Chapel Street, St Kilda East VIC
Dates: 2 February – 5 March 2016
Bookings: 03 9533 8083 |

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