Review: Slut (New Theatre)

newtheatre2Venue: New Theatre (Newtown NSW), Sep 22 – 26, 2015
Playwright: Patricia Cornelius
Director: Natarsha Wrensted
Cast: Ashley Avci, Christopher Broadbent, Brigitta Brown, Jordan Keyes-Liley, Sophie Mccrae, Rowan McDonald, Felicity Mckay, Eliza Scott, Zoe Tomaras, Jane Watt

Theatre review
Sex is one of the most natural and fundamental of all human experiences, yet it is tainted by endless negative connotations and meanings, informed by cultural and religious thought that aim to control behaviour in all our societies. Women especially, struggle to embrace and celebrate their sexual selves without having to deal with stigmas of all kinds rearing their ugly heads. Patricia Cornelius’ Slut talks about a Lolita who fails to recognise her power. Instead of valuing her attractiveness appropriately, she uses it to earn indiscriminate affection. We witness her being taken advantage of, and the chastisement that follows. This realm of discussion should be a complex one full of ambiguity, but the play seems simplistic in its attitude, and the powerlessness of its Lolita is concerning and unfortunate. Certainly weak people of all genders exist everywhere, but the juxtaposition of strong sexuality with low intelligence as a central subject matter seems too convenient and obvious.

We do not hear very much of what Lolita has to say, but learn about her exploits from the mouths of her vicious peers. Natarsha Wrensted’s direction illustrates all the hearsay and makes real what could have been only rumours. We see Lolita make mistakes, but she is rarely given the opportunity to speak for herself. We are a society that is capable of using the term “slut” as insult for any woman, and although it is not the play’s intention to label Lolita’s behaviour as reprehensible, there is a troubling disquiet in witnessing a character described only in sexual terms. We want to see the young woman’s worth, but they are reduced, and although we catch glimpses of her personal feelings, they do not offer sufficient balance for the text’s emphasis on her sexuality. The message it wishes to impart seems to be about the danger that we can put ourselves in when desperate for love, but the production needs to take greater care not to imply that aggressive feminine sexuality is in itself problematic.

Politics aside, there is much to enjoy in the 35-minute show’s standard of performance. The cast is uniformly strong, and the predominantly chorus format of presentation is sensitively choreographed and the actors are well-rehearsed. There is a cohesion to the group that is fascinating to watch, and their work is even more effective when individuals are able to bring unexpected flashes of nuance and variation to their parts. Energy and conviction is never an issue in the production, but scene transitions require greater support from lighting and sound.

Criticising any person’s sexuality is without doubt, archaic and senseless. Using the word “slut” as a derogatory term only exposes an inability to communicate with intelligence, and a severe lack of sophistication. We have exhausted the culture of “slut-shaming”, but young people must continue to be taught to value their own bodies, and the bodies of others. We should always try to become better persons, and in that process, how we think about our sex lives is crucial.

www.newtheatre.org.au