Three women, entirely disheveled by life, share their stories in an intricate and breath-taking way. They’re the women you would only side-ways glance at, or expect to see living on the streets. These are the women nobody saved.
Dee & Cornelius’ SHIT has opened at fortyfivedownstairs after a sell-out season in Melbourne Theatre Company’s NEON Festival in 2015. The 2015 season won SHIT four Green Room Awards for Best Ensemble, Set and Costume Design, Production and Writing for the Independent Theatre category.
We look in on a conversation between three women who were tossed aside and overlooked by life. They’re forgotten unless they’re being abused. What does a girl look like who is out of control and rightfully angry? Billy (Nicci Wilks), Bobby (Sarah Ward) and Sam (Peta Brady) inhabit everything we’re taught to avoid eye-contact with, and yet here an audience sits for an hour, no interval, listening to and watching them. These purposefully androgynous names help to strip back traditional thoughts of femininity. Societal norms tell us these lives aren’t anything like what ‘a lady’ should be.
Usually characters like these will be accompanied by others of higher classes, ready to either save them or make matters worse. SHIT isn’t distracted by feeling the need to familiarise audiences with characters and their situations. These are women shaped by their hand in life, doing what they can to get by.
In Cornelius’ world, you don’t ask about when someone had sex for the first time. You are berated for feeling the right to want for things. Moving from foster home to foster home with “bullshit” families is the norm. Performances by Wilks, Ward and Brady are raw, strong, and utterly unapologetic. They are ugly in every sense of the word. Sam’s tiny glimmers of hope are shattered by Bobby and Billy bringing her back down to their reality. Nobody cares.
Immediately, Rachel Burke’s lighting sets the scene. The stage is drenched in shadow but highlights everything necessary. The clever incorporation of lighting into set helps tease at thoughts of location, while Marg Horwell’s set and costumes reveal more about these characters. Their clothes are not new, they’re not the best-fitting out there – Sam’s singlet seems to have been altered by hand – but they speak volumes of each character’s personality. The set is simple, yet allows each character their own space to inhabit when needed. When the actors are behind the main set piece, a curved mirror has smartly been placed to enhance the limited visibility at this point, though visibility does remain noticeably impacted. Sound is used to highlight significant changes throughout SHIT and Anna Liebzeit executes this well, with minimal yet appropriate tracks.
At times it felt like if more context was given, we could engage with these characters more thoroughly, though it feels Cornelius most likely wanted that partial disconnect. It really is an authentic snapshot of Sam, Billy and Bobby’s lives – they know what’s going on right now, so there’s no real need to explain it to us. It’s clear in the way the characters speak that they intimately know one another. They speak harmoniously, and continue or interrupt thoughts. It becomes rhythmic, almost musically so at times, and helps direct the flow to keep the story of SHIT enticing. The women are sparring with words, firing bullets of unspoken support at one another.
You leave knowing these women won’t succeed to break their seemingly eternal cycle of disappointment and suppressed pain. You want Bobby to feel a release from her internalised hatred. You want Sam to feel free to want. You breathe a sigh of relief at the thought of a tear rolling down Billy’s cheek. But you know they’ll continue to live these lives. Cornelius touches on a broader theme within society: are women treated as shit in general? Are women able to be or accepted as authentic? These transgressive stories deserve to be told.
These characters aren’t the women we usually see grace our stages. Somehow, there is humour in their stories, and while at times it was difficult to tell if the audience was laughing from discomfort or humour, it is genuine laughter. As the play ended, many audience members were sitting forward in their seats, totally engrossed in these stories.
SHIT is shocking and confronting from the moment it starts, in the most exhilarating way. Sam, Billy and Bobby are audacious and funny, you don’t want to be their friend, but you feel better for hearing their stories. The vernacular is so juicy and full of swearing; it feels wrong to review SHIT without swearing. SHIT is fucking powerful.
SHIT’s season has already been extended and is on until 18 May 2016 at fortyfivedownstairs.