Reviews, Stage, Theatre

The Village Bike review (Old Fitz, Sydney)

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Penelope Skinner’s The Village Bike premiered at London’s Royal Court and proved popular with audiences, resulting in two season extensions. It was then produced off-Broadway with indie film star Greta Gerwig in the leading role, and again proved a success.

But this comedic tragedy, which is packed full of provocative, morally ambiguous sexual and domestic situations — involving morally ambiguous characters — has proven particularly divisive.

Becky (Gabrielle Scawthorn) has recently moved to a rural village with her relatively strait-laced, environmentally-conscious husband John (Benedict Wall), and is desperately trying to keep their chicly renovated old cottage together. She’s also just become pregnant, and is finding it difficult to come to terms with how motherhood will change her identity and sexuality.

And there’s another problem — Becky is horny as hell, but John has barely even touched her since she fell pregnant.

John is a kind of pseudo new-age, “sensitive” guy, who is far cluckier and more into the idea of parenting than Becky. The neighbours think he’s an absolute gem, and that Becky is the luckiest woman in the world, but there’s a dominating force behind his kindness.

So Becky looks elsewhere to satiate her sexual cravings, which become more and more intense and adventurous as her pregnancy goes on. She finds herself acting out some fairly full-on fantasies with Oliver (Rupert Reid), the seductive but intimidating man who sells Becky a second-hand bike.

Gabrielle Scawthorn is absolutely outstanding as Becky, not missing a single opportunity thrown forward by Skinner’s writing, whether it be moments that are darkly funny or desperately sad. Rachel Chant has directed a fine and smart production — which mostly manages to strike the right balance between light and dark — but it’s all driven forward by Scawthorn’s intricate and blisteringly powerful performance.

She’s well-supported by the rest of the ensemble: Benedict Wall is the perfect wet blanket as John, Sophie Gregg finds some of the play’s funniest moments as Jenny, Rupert Reid is suitably grotesque as Oliver, Jamie Oxenbould is sympathetic as the pathetic plumber Mike, and Kate Bookallil makes a big impression with little stage time as Oliver’s wife, Alice.

The production, designed by Anna Gardiner and Martelle Hunt is a smart use of the tiny Old Fitz space — taking place across two floors and three distinct locations — while Nate Edmondson’s compositions and sound design set the appropriate tone.

Despite the more forward-thinking and mold-breaking aspects of the play, its conclusion seems to follow a narrative that we’ve seen many times about the dangers of female sexuality.

Obviously Skinner isn’t setting out the shame Becky’s overt sexuality — rather to consider the consequences that women often have to deal with when they step outside what’s expected of their gender — but the play inadvertently joins a long line of literature and theatre that presents a woman’s sexuality as a destructive force that must be contained.

In spite of that, it subverts its audience’s expectations in interesting ways and is full of hot-burning passion and a woman facing some of the most difficult conundrums of her life. 

[box]The Village Bike is at the Old Fitz Theatre, Sydney until July 8.

Featured image by Andre Vasquez[/box]

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