Reviews, Stage, Theatre

Slut review: Festival Fatale, Sydney

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Over the last weekend, grassroots group Women in Theatre and Screen (WITS) staged their first Festival Fatale of performance by women, for everybody. This wonderful and vibrant celebration of diverse female creative talent took over the Eternity Playhouse in Darlinghurst for two days to fight back against the gender inequality across the country’s theatre sector.

I only managed to catch two performances at the festival: Candy Bowers and Busty Beatz’s hip-hop cabaret/stand-up show Australian Booty, and a new production of Patricia Cornelius’s 2009 play, Slut. 

While these two works couldn’t be much more different in terms of form, both come from strong Australian female perspectives which we hear little of on our country’s most prominent stages.

I’m beginning to feel a little bit like a broken record when it comes to Patricia Cornelius. There are few writers able to cut to the core of who we are and the social forces which drive us in such a witty, incisive, compelling, and unflinching fashion. While she receives award after award for her work, she’s rarely given major productions, which is a great injustice. Every serious theatre company in the country should be clamouring to work with her.

Earlier this year, Playwriting Australia artistic director Tim Roseman described Cornelius to me as one of the world’s leading playwrights, and that doesn’t feel like too great an exaggeration.

In Slut, she charts the rise and fall of a girl called Lolita (Jessica Keogh) using a Greek chorus of her fellow schoolgirls (Julia Dray, Danielle Stamoulos, Maryann Wright and Bobbie-Jean Henning). All the girls are great friends when very young, but following a holiday they return to school to discover that Lolita has suddenly grown breasts, before the rest of the girls.

She soon becomes the centre of attention for all the boys and girls, and Lolita’s friends live vicariously through the sexual power Lolita discovers. But soon the tide begins to change, Lolita is labelled a slut, and cast out of her friendship group.

What follows is a tough and incendiary look at our culture of victim-blaming and slut-shaming.

At just 35 minutes, the play wastes no time in cutting to the heart of the matter and is constantly engaging. Cornelius can do more in half an hour than most writers can do in three.

There’s one particular monologue — beautifully performed by Keogh — about Lolita’s desires, or lack thereof, which cuts straight to the core of what it is to be young and seeking something of which you can’t be entirely sure.

As in most of her writing, Cornelius leaves a lot of space for directors to find their own way through.

Director Erin Taylor has created a production much, much better than you’d expect for a one-off performance. Her cast picks up on the colourful interpersonal details of the play, which is no easy task. The dynamics between the schoolgirls, as painted by Taylor, are entirely believable.

It’s fascinating and heart-wrenching to watch as these young women struggle to come to terms with the contradictions and immense pressures of the world they live in.

I hope this production returns to Sydney at some point, because it needs to be seen.

[box]Slut played one performance only at the Eternity Playhouse on Saturday, 29 October, as part of Festival Fatale.

Photo by Clare Hawley[/box]

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