Women treated shamefully by the Aussie Rules’ boys’ club. That is the theme of Patricia Cornelius’ gritty, feminist play In the Club. It concerns three young women who hook up with members of a football team and pay the price.
Annie (Eva Seymour) transitions from a naïve, football-mad 15-year-old to an exploited 16-year-old, which sets the tone for what is to follow. She is frustrated that her classmates – most of whom couldn’t care less about the sport – flirt with three members of the team she supports when they visit the school. Keen for their attention, she makes the mistake of linking up with one of them, Sean O’Grady (Ras-Samuel).
But after sleeping with him and expecting follow through on his part she is gravely disappointed by his response. Refusing to take “no” for an answer, she draws attention to herself in a nightclub, also frequented by Sean. Olivia (Brigid Gallacher) was never completely at ease around boys and is basically scared of men. She is not into football at all, but meets footballer Angus (Darcy Kent) at the same club on the same night. After an awkward introduction, the pair hits it off and in a few hours things get hot and heavy. She dares to dream that Angus could be “the one”.
Ruby (Michelle Perera) thinks she has everything figured out. She “got into some trouble” after being plied with drinks when she was younger, but she loves sex and knows just how to lure men. She willingly plays the field and isn’t looking to settle down. But when James (Damien Harrison), just one of the football team she has been with, keeps pushing for more, she rejects his overtures. He calls her sad and he gets angry.
Director Kitan Petkovski has used sharp, edgy music stings and the powerful songs of Jaguar Jonze to heighten impact. Jonze’s debut album BUNNY MODE was written throughout her advocacy for survivors of abuse, sexual harm and harassment. Cornelius hits more than the odd nerve in her depiction of a male dominated culture. She doesn’t hold back, adopting a take no prisoners’ approach to her writing. It is something I have always admired about Cornelius and that again comes to the fore in In the Club.
Combined with striking visuals, many of which see the women writ large, shot from above and projected onto as many as three walls, In the Club hits hard. Choreography from Mia Tuco is seamless, as each of the three women introduce their stories one after another to start proceedings. Some 25 minutes into the 80-minute production, the men arrive at the club and thereafter the women’s individual interactions with them are revealed. For the most part, subsequently the narrative weaves between the three “couples”. Mind you, at one point all three women come together and a few home truths are spoken.
The performances are universally strong, evoking a visceral audience response. You are left asking, where is the accountability? Eva Seymour’s opening monologue resonates instantly and, overall, I shifted uncomfortably in my seat on more than the odd occasion. Seymour compliments a memorable acting performance with an appealing singing voice. The others, too, carry their characters with authenticity.
The set consists of two large couches – one black with red stripes and the other red, with just a few lashings of black – each complete with ottomans. On the back wall is a long plank representing a bar, complete with open bottles, cans and glasses. At the front of the stage is a single Sherrin football. Each of the women are dressed in sparkly nightclub gear, while the men are more casually attired. The set and costume designer who takes us to the den of iniquity is Bethany J. Fellows. Lighting by Niklas Pajanti and Tom Willis has an important role to play.
Skilfully directed, In the Club tightens the screws on bad behaviour and the boys’ code. It is playing at Theatre Works until 11th November, 2023.
Other reviews you might enjoy:
- Big Heart (Theatre Works) – theatre review
- Slut (The Burrow) – theatre review
- My Sister Jill (MTC) – theatre review
Alex First is a Melbourne based journalist and communications specialist. He contributes to The Blurb on film and theatre.