March 01, 2018

Compelling footy drama sinks the slipper into unexamined misogyny

Adelaide Festival 2018

In the Club
by Patricia Cornelius
State Theatre Company
Odeon Theatre, Norwood Parade, Adelaide.
February 27. Tickets: $34- $76. Bookings 131 246 or
Duration 90 minutes (no interval)
Until March 18.

Commenting on her play Love, written in 2003, the prolific and fearless playwright, Patricia Cornelius observed: “Love is a given. We all believe we will feel it one day. Most of the time it is represented in a rather crass and ludicrous package, but we buy the package anyway.”

In her newest work, In the Club, commissioned by State Theatre for the Adelaide Festival, the package is crasser than usual because love is perilously mixed with adulation, fantasy and porn-inspired male narcissism.

Three young women begin with separate monologues. Annie (Miranda Daughtry) is young and mad on AFL footy. She goes to games, talks match strategy and is disgusted by the flirtatious girliness of her friends. She is also astonished when Sean O’Grady (Dale March), a newly recruited midfielder, gives her his phone number.

Olivia (Rachel Burke) is an arts student who doesn’t know much about boyfriends. She finds sex role-plays ludicrous and isn’t sure about love until she meets Angus (Rashidi Edward), a star player intrigued to meet someone who knows nothing about football. Ruby (Anna Steen), on the other hand, is a tough cookie who likes sex, especially with super-fit, gym-sculpted footy blokes like James (Nathan O’Keefe ) now in the twilight of his career. They may be the stars but, off the field, Ruby says, it’s she who controls the game.

From there, director Geordie Brookman takes Cornelius’ confronting, timely play into a series of increasingly disturbing encounters that begin with banter and end with indifference and sexual assault.

The set and lighting, co-credited to Geoff Cobham and Chris Petridis, consists of heavy steel pillars at the sides of the stage and horizontal planks at the back which fill with intense white light. The floor is rather inexplicably covered in shallow water and periodically jets spray the stage. The players are also drenched in intense red and blue light and Andrew Howard’s soundtrack adds urgent techno pulsing and synth cascades to the mix.

In the Club, echoing David Williamson’s earlier classic, The Club, delivers a harsh verdict on the unexamined misogyny and unchecked abuse of the entitled towards their women fans and devotees. AFL is the target, (but other footy codes can also take a bow) and there are various references to actual scandals: sexting, revenge porn, cheating with team-mates’ wives and gang rape.

The performances are strong, although sometimes over-wrought, and the male choruses of derision toward the women could be more telling with less vocal bombast. Miranda Daughtry finds poignant precision with her portrait of Annie and Rachel Burke’s depiction of Olivia’s ordeal, which closes the play, brings Cornelius’s formally ambitious dramatic intentions to a powerful conclusion. This play bravely lifts the lid on a difficult subject just when the gender-quaking #MeToo movement is summoning its voices of resistance.

“Compelling footy drama sinks the slipper into unexamined misogyny” The Australian, March 1, 2018, p.15.

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