Last October, Women in Theatre and Screen (WITS) staged Festival Fatale in Sydney, an event comprising two days of theatre written, directed, designed, produced by and starring women. The initiative was conceived as a response to the growing concerns around gender disparity in Australian theatre.

One of the works programmed for WITS’ Festival Fatale was Slut, written by multi-award-winning playwright Patricia Cornelius. The one-off staging of the piece was a sell-out success and garnered an excellent critical response. Owing to that success, Slut has returned to the Sydney stage this week for a limited season at the Old Fitz Theatre (wrapping up next Saturday 24 June.)

Slut highlights the potentially catastrophic consequences of toxic social labelling and, more specifically, slut-shaming. It tells the story of Lolita (Jessica Keogh), the name an obvious nod to the central character of Vladimir Nabokov’s 1955 novel. Surrounding her is a ‘chorus’ of four friends (Julia Dray, Danielle Stamoulos, Maryann Wright and Bobbie-Jean Henning). Our first introduction to Lolita is as a bright and carefree young child. Each friend reminisces about her own history with Lolita, speaking affectionately about the times they’ve shared together. Each member of the chorus not only describes their own interactions with her over time, but takes their turn in acting as a narrator of Lolita’s own tale.

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The cast of Slut (Photo by Clare Hawley)

As the story unfolds, the chorus tells us of how when Lolita returns to school in Year 4, she has physically developed. And it’s at that point when, slowly but surely, her descent begins. Some highly inappropriate attention from a male teacher is followed by significant interest from many school-aged males, and it’s that attention that becomes the catalyst for a change in the way Lolita starts to view herself, and subsequently affects how she begins to behave in response to male advances. Soon, she’s the first in her group of friends to lose her virginity, and her friends are in awe of her.

But soon, the girls enter Year 9 (to use Cornelius’ own words, ‘the year of the bitch’). It’s a time when a marked change in attitude occurs towards Lolita by her peers. Affection and awe have now made way for snap judgments and nastiness, and the tag Lolita now wears is scandalous. That tag, and the response it elicits from those around her, ultimately sees Lolita the subject of reprehensible conduct.

Clocking in at just 35 minutes, there’s not an enormous amount of time for Cornelius to provoke thought and reflection; however, her knack for telling a story in economical yet highly expressive fashion means that, coupled with Erin Taylor’s strong directorial hand, Slut packs the punch it must. Never mincing words, Cornelius’ dialogue is frank but maintains a wonderful poetic character throughout. The narrative structure allows movement through time to occur dynamically while still affording the audience the chance to absorb the significance of events at each turn.

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The cast of Slut (Photo by Clare Hawley)

The cast members are uniformly strong. Keogh’s portrayal of the tragic central character is excellent, engaging the audience completely in her story from start to finish. Her transformation from a wide-eyed and innocent child, to a young teenager grappling with how to respond to the attention she receives and, finally, to a person totally devoid of any self-esteem is powerful. And each member of the chorus of friends delivers characters that ring true to life. It’s unfortunate (but also a credit to Cornelius as playwright) that their words and actions will be familiar to us all – male and female.

Taylor’s staging of the production in the intimate venue makes good use of the entire space; the proximity of the actors to the 65-strong audience heightens the impact of Cornelius’ text. Additionally, Nate Edmondson has ensured the action that unfolds is always suitably and meaningfully underscored.

Just as she achieved in Savages, Cornelius succeeds here in bringing home the cumulative impact of seemingly innocuous comments and behaviours. It’s a potent reminder for us of the havoc we can wreak on someone’s life. Slut is therefore not only a compelling piece of theatre, but arguably a valuable educational experience for teens. Similarly, men and women of all ages couldn’t hurt to be reminded that tolerating the vicious characterisation of young women is unacceptable and that, given the conduct it can be used to justify, such characterisation has no place in any civilised society. Words count.

 

SLUT – SEASON DETAILS

Produced by Edgeware Forum and Rue de la Rocket
in association with Red Line Productions

Dates: Playing now until 24 June
Times:
Tue – Sat 6:15pm; Sun 4:30pm
Duration:
30 minutes
Tickets:
$25
Bookings:
http://www.redlineproductions.com.au/slut

*** Please note this performance is suggested for ages 15 and above

 

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