Theatre Review: SHIT is bold, brash and unapologetic (at Seymour Centre until 29 July)

Language warning: if the title makes you uneasy you probably won’t enjoy this show. It slaps you across the face with vulgarity, ugliness and brutality. But if you love innovative, challenging theatre, you must see SHIT at the Seymour Centre this July.

SHIT is not so much a narrative as it is a profile of three very ugly girls. Their crude taunts, physically violent outbursts, and blatant flaunting of their sexuality are deeply at odds with the way women are expected to behave. They are a tribe, hunting in a pack and casting judgement on all who pass. But while all three women are connected by their circumstance and history, they are disparate and ultimately very alone.

Writer Patricia Cornelius is not afraid of tackling the worst of humanity, particularly when it comes to addressing the oft-avoided topic of women and violence. As in her play SLUT, SHIT forces the audience to examine their own attitudes towards women and how they should behave. The three characters in SHIT are beastial and brash. You don’t have to like them – in fact, it’s pretty hard to find any redeeming qualities between them – but you do have to look at them and ponder how they have come to be.

Cornelius’ writing has a very distinctive style. Her dialogue has a rhythmic, musical quality, regularly employing unison reminiscent of Greek chorus. But in SHIT, Cornelius’ writing sounds a lot less poetic and much more real than in some of her other works. This is not a bad thing; it draws your attention to the way the rougher, tougher members of society actually speak.

In fact, the first five minutes of SHIT pay homage to another four letter word, showcasing its versatility as a verb, adjective and noun. There’s no hiding from the foul language – it’s thrown cheerfully out to the audience with middle fingers raised. For all the intended offence, it’s actually a very funny sequence. But don’t let the humour of the opening minutes fool you – this is no comedy. Something much darker is waiting in the shadows.

Cornelius and director, Susie Dee, are regular collaborators, and the connection they have is vastly evident in Dee’s treatment of this text. The non-linear script is broken into mini-scenes by short passages of seemingly abstract movement. These dialogue pauses are accompanied by a variety of music choices, each casting the movement sequences in a different mood.

Performers Nicci Wilks, Sarah Ward and Peta Brady, handle the physical demands of the production superbly. Though some of the sequences are almost dance-like in their form, Wilks, Ward and Brady approach them with their own characteristic style. There are three distinct voices on stage, each with her own troubling back-story. As an ensemble, the actors are well rehearsed and confidently perform in side-by-side unison. As individuals, they are frighteningly realistic visions of humanity’s nasty side.

The set, designed by Marg Horwell, is starkly simple. Spanning the stage in the very centre is a huge grey wall. Cut into the wall, about a third of the way up, are three rectangular cubby-holes. They are large enough for the actors to sit comfortably inside or to jump through to the dimly lit rear of the stage. Almost hidden above the wall is a street mirror, pointed at the back of the stage, it’s warped eye revealing the action that would otherwise be hidden when the women go beyond. The set has a deeply institutional feel – cold, grubby, unkempt.

But Horwell’s set is nothing without the accompanying lighting design by Rachel Burke. Artistic, atmospheric and showcasing Burke’s beautiful use of shadow, the lighting is an integral part of the storytelling. Downlights set in the top of the three boxes ensure the actors’ faces are clearly visible while they perch above the stage. The area in front of the wall is lit with mostly white light, adding to the institutional feel. Behind the wall, orange beams cast eerie shadows, periodically hiding the women from view. It’s wonderful work.

If you missed SHIT at this year’s Sydney Festival, now’s your chance to see this brilliant production. But consider yourself warned, you’re in for an avalanche of coarse language, violence and adult themes.

The return season of SHIT is playing at the Seymour Centre until 29th July. For tickets, go here.

The reviewer attended on 18th July, 2017.

Photo credit Sebastian Bourges

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