Left – Miranda Daughtry and Rashidi Edward. Cover – Anna Steen. Photos – Sia Duff
I doubt the W.H.O.’s figure that one-third of the world’s population of women is estimated to have been victims of sexual harassment or abuse. It’s simply got to be more than that. Ask around. By the time the present #metoo campaign is old enough to be properly assessed, I think a more realistic figure will emerge. Right, having got that out of the way, it is incumbent on me to make sense of the play In the Club by Patricia Cornelius, an Adelaide Festival production. As they commissioned her to write it, The State Theatre Company has been working with her to develop the show over the last two years.
After a couple of technological glitches, which the audience bore with good-natured fortitude, it looked as if someone was being very clever with lights producing an effect remarkably like water on stage reflecting the sparse furniture on it and the long thin tubes of light outlining the action. Then, as the first of three women emerges to tell us her story, it becomes clear that indeed it is water on stage, enough of it to make plashy ripples as bare feet paddle through. Shades of “Singing in the Rain” I thought – any minute now there’ll be Gene Kelly and umbrellas – but no such flippancy with this play. No, this is a serious look at “sexual assault within the football fraternity” we’re told and the State Theatre Company’s introduction to the play says, “Annie, Ruby and Olivia are going out. They want to get laid, get loose, get love – but they are women in a world of men. The rules of the game are merciless. The lines of division are clear”. Not to me they’re not and not, I feel, to either the women or the men characterized in this play. At the end I asked myself what the play means to do, came up with the answer that it is to highlight the caustic and pack mentality of some young men in the spotlight of the footy field towards women and girls adoring and cheering on the sidelines, and whether the men have the right to assume that, because they are easy pickings, they have a fair claim to use them sexually as they will, willing or not.
The water escaped my understanding, I must admit – and the sound. Was that a heart-beat? And what about the other sounds, sometimes too loud? H’mm? I expect they are symbolic but the symbolism escaped me. Under the taut direction of Geordie Brookman, well stage-managed by Gabrielle Hornhardt and interestingly lit by Geoff Cobham and Chris Petridis, the play moves at a good pace and the six actors leave us in no doubt as to their characters’ intentions and beliefs in this matter. Any veneer the men wear is thin. Hear them baying. All are convincing, men and women, the stand out for me being Ruby.
Pert Annie (Miranda Daughtry) in her tight turquoise satin shorts, tells a straightforward story. A bit of a tomboy, she grew up loving and taking part in sport, was good at it and at 15, full of zest, health and enthusiasm and hardly aware of her gender or its implications. She had her sporting passions, especially for the football team she barracked for – “my boys” she called them. Girls around her at the games would giggle, bite their lips to redden them and go berserk but that full-on flirting was not for her. She longed to get to know those young gods, to talk about this game, that tactic and, to mull over games and relive glorious moments with them was her dearest dream. At 16, it happened. By her begging and very persistence she got an interview with Sean. She went to her appointment in his room in a hotel. He was in bed. He pulled aside the bedclothes and said, “Get in”. So she did.
Ruby (Anna Steen) in her close fitting, very short dress, is a sexy man’s dream. She has practiced using her “come to bed” eyes, her sinuous body and special sexy Southern Belle talk to perfection. She knows what they want and sometimes they get it if she chooses but many just get the tease and the flick. The fact is she likes sex. She understands it, those young men’s need for it and her ability to give it to them. End of story. She wants nothing more and nor should they, she believes. “They’re using you”, they say. “I’m using them”, she replies. James thinks otherwise.
Olivia (Rachel Burke) is a Juliet, a pretty virgin, innocent and sweet, just waiting for her Romeo but not yearning, not working on it, you might say. Her bright red deeply plunging neckline dress might say something different but she wears it without guile. She says she wants to believe in love because well, it would be nice to have someone to care about, someone who loves her back. Yes, that would be nice. Oh, but isn’t Angus one of the pack?
The men, Angus (Rashidi Edward), Sean (Dale March) and James (Nathan O’Keefe), footballers all, are devoted to the Club. “We can do whatever we like,” they say, “We stick together. We’re in the Club.” Each of them is aware of his talent on the field and of how much he is adored by his fans, especially the females. But the Director and Associate Director (Suzanna Kennett Lister) say it “is not a play about football. It’s about a not so invisible system that has run the world for a long time and the damage it causes by enforcing itself.” So, watching it, can we put aside the fact that these men are part of a popular football team with its thousands of fans? I think not. That makes a significant difference. Young women gush and glow, scream and fantasize about them, exhibiting behaviour that looks like hysteria. Yes, they do about other sporting teams, pop stars and such, but “our boys” are local, accessible even attainable – at a price maybe. To say that sexual harassment and abuse is endemic in every walk of life is true but this phenomenon comes about by the popularity of the game, the highly paid hero-status of its players, their possible accessibility and the chance that if they play their cards right, this or that young, impressionable woman will be the one. Look at reasons why men who abuse and rape say it happened and you’ll find it all here. Hence I note what they are wearing. “It was her fault,” they say, ”She asked for it.”
But, look again, at this play. It says the blame is shared. The men who abuse just don’t get it and it’s not in their interest to do so. But, if this play is a good portrayal of the truth, the women don’t either. In reality, many of us want to say, “Teach them about safe sex, about what the results can be, about alcohol and drugs and sex, about violence and sex, about the joy of sex, about sexual differences, about everything that can be taught about it but don’t leave it to the stage to teach about attitudes when it comes to this oft-times touchy subject. Don’t call it morality, responsibility, respect, relationships and other meritorious words but tell it as it is.” This play is about expectations and consent gone awry – a misunderstanding about expectations. The very nature of sex makes women much more vulnerable to the predatory behaviour of some men but both sexes need to know and talk about expectations. The #metoo crie de coeur is an indication that women are letting it be known how they feel but they need to know where the line should be drawn by them too. This play understands that in the football scenario there are two sides to a situation which need to be exposed and clearly understood by both parties and that men who ignore the rules will more often be exposed and invoke the ire of the law. Are women getting there with #metoo? Barely, but it’s another step. Have no doubt though, this play says that women don’t know the rules either.
State Theatre Company South Australia presents
In the Club
by Patricia Cornelius
Director Geordie Brookman
Venue: Odeon Theatre | The Parade, Norwood SA
Dates: 23 February – 18 March 2018
Tickets: $56 – $76
Bookings: 131246 | adelaidefestival.com.au
Part of the 2018 Adelaide Festival