It’s been only a few weeks since the critically-acclaimed season of Patricia Cornelius’ Slut at Sydney’s Old Fitz Theatre wrapped up (you can read Theatre People’s review of Slut here).
A playwright, novelist and dramaturge, Patricia Cornelius has earned a reputation as being one of the best in the business here in Australia. In January, Sydney finally got the chance to experience another of Cornelius’ celebrated works, Shit. Described as a compelling, raw and powerful play examining the intersections of class and misogyny, Shit was ultimately a highlight of the 2017 Sydney Festival.
Now, following on from the remarkable reception it received in January, Shit returns to Sydney’s Seymour Centre for a limited season. Directed by Susie Dee, the production stars Peta Brady, Sarah Ward and Nicci Wilks.
Dee and Cornelius have a history of collaboration that dates back 30 years. The two first worked together as actors in Cornelius’ play Lilly and May and Dee has since directed several of Cornelius’ plays. So, what is it that Dee most enjoys about Cornelius’ writing?
“First and foremost, I really love Patricia’s use of language; it’s complex, it’s strong, it’s lean, it also has a poeticism about it,” she tells Theatre People.
“Also, I think that all of the subject matter she deals with digs deep into the human psyche … I think she creates really complex characters that have many levels and many layers. She doesn’t work in superficiality.”
Shit had its world premiere in 2015 as part of the NEON Festival of Independent Theatre, a Melbourne Theatre Company initiative. Dee was the director of its debut engagement. She talks about the ongoing evolution of the production that’s occurred since that time.
“It’s been so wonderful to have return seasons,” she says. “We’ve been able to dig a bit deeper, [make] the choreography a bit sharper … It’s very nuanced now. I just came out of a run this morning. We’ve done it quite a few times now, and I had tears in my eyes at the end. I couldn’t believe it. How many times have I seen this work, but I still feel deeply moved and shocked by it.”
Shit tells the story of three young women – Billy, Bobby and Sam – who Dee describes as strong and relentless characters.
“They’re not afraid to be ugly, we don’t really like them at times, they’re foul [and] the world thinks they’re ‘shit’,” she says.
“They’ve come from foster homes and they’re at a point in their lives that they feel angry with the world, and a set of circumstances leads these three women to commit a nasty crime … We see these women play out and re-enact the crime.”
Dee notes that the characters in Shit are women we’re not used to seeing on Australian stages.
“We don’t really see women who really are foul … those women we see on trams and trains who we’re always a little bit scared of,” she explains.
“[The play] questions whether you empathise with these women – do you feel pity for these women? Do you feel angry at the people who treat them badly? Do you understand this class of woman?”
Dee continues: “I think our stages are littered with niceties and I think the majority of work that we see on Australian stages is predominantly naturalistic, and it looks at relationships … But very rarely does it look at … the ugly side of women.”
Last month, when the annual Helpmann Award nominations were announced, Dee found herself nominated for Best Direction of a Play for her work on Shit. It’s an impressive achievement, particularly when her fellow nominees have all been recognised for work produced by major Australian theatre companies.
Dee describes the recognition for direction of an independent production as “heartening”.
“Go independent theatre, I say,” she says.
And when the topic turns from critical to audience responses, Dee says those who attend performances of Shit are often surprised by how much they laugh throughout the show.
“It’s really laugh-out-loud funny, in terms of what the characters can say and their sense of their own problems and their physicality. It digs deep but it’s really humourous at times,” she says.
“It’s got a vibrant life force about it. I think that’s really important. Sometimes, you can go to see theatre and you might laugh and you might get a little bit moved, but I think because this is short and sharp and it’s quite relentless, it’s got a life force and a vitality that keeps you on the edge of your seat.”
SHIT – SEASON DETAILS
Dates: Playing now until 29th July
Times: 8pm on 18-22, 25-27 and 29 Jul; 2pm on 22 and 29 Jul; 6.30pm on 24 and 28 Jul
Tickets: $42 from https://www.seymourcentre.com/events/event/shit or (02) 9351 7940
Duration: 60 minutes