Printable CopyIN THE CLUB
The State Theatre Company of South Australia
Odeon Theatre
Until 18 Mar 2018

Review by John Wells

It starts with anger and ends with sadness. The anger is raw, pulsating and confronting. The sadness is abject, distressing and damaging.

Patricia Cornelius’ provocative and fearless new play “In the Club” is an unblinking and forensic examination of male brutality. Sexism and masculine viciousness are explored within the world of professional football. It’s a world we know well from the back pages of the paper: sex with a team-mate’s wife, nude photographs zipping from phone to phone, preying on impressionable girls, a gang-bang in a shadowy bedroom. A world of gifted and beautiful men – famous, entitled and fierce with narcissistic self-belief – and the women who circle around them.

The play begins with three monologues: Annie (Miranda Daughtry), the sixteen year-old footy fan who finds herself used and discarded by one of her idols; Olivia (Rachel Burke), the naïve student who knows nothing about football, but who finds herself charmed by a sensitive man with apparently romantic motives; Ruby (Anna Steen), the confident and seasoned team groupie with an uninterrupted string of conquests, who clings to her attractiveness as she ages. There is a chilling directness in the opening monologues, which sets the tone for the stories that follow. These three women interact with three footballers, Sean (Dale March), James (Nathan O’Keefe) and Angus (Rashidi Edward) in a nightclub. The pairings are intimate, caustic and destructive.

This is nuanced and uncompromising writing. At times the text feels (wonderfully) like free verse poetry; sometimes explicit, sometimes elliptical. Cornelius’ greatest achievement is her steadfast refusal to lapse into cliché. She knows the issues are complicated and layered, and the writing embraces this complexity. The play’s voice is undoubtedly a female one. The men are sketched more superficially; their motives revealed more by their behaviour than what they say. But the men are neither demons nor ciphers. There is detail and insight. Common questions and assumptions (all the more biting in the light of the #MeToo movement) – “Why didn’t she say something?”, “She’s only got herself to blame”, “Come on, boys will be boys” are worked over with perception.

Geordie Brookman’s direction allows the characters to tell their stories in an uncomplicated way. The opening monologues are structurally clumsy and mean the momentum of the play takes a while to get moving. But the pace soon picks up and the intersecting stories move inexorably towards their awful crescendos. Brookman shows real skill in allowing the brief moments of humour and softness to resonate.

This is a true ensemble piece, and the State Theatre Company ensemble works remarkably well together. Particularly affecting are the tired dance between Steen and O’Keefe, the old player limping towards retirement jousting with the once-irresistible hornbag, and the hesitant, charming chat-up between Burke and Edward.

Geoff Cobham’s set - a darkened cube intersected by white beams, where the actors move through ankle-deep water – evokes a subterranean nightclub or a foetid cellar. The design does not always suit the action but creates a powerful atmosphere of dread. This feeling is accentuated by the excellent buzzing and grating sound-track (Gazelle Twin and Andrew Howard).

The production illustrates the awful damage and sadness that this brutal masculinity causes. But the strong message that seeps through is that we are all weakened and diminished by male violence and cruelty. We are all in the club. We all have a responsibility.