Friday, July 1, 2016

'Screwed' at Theatre503, 40 June 2016

Luce and Charlene spend their days screwing. By day they work in a factory fixing washers to phallic pipes, by night they down equal measures of booze and cock in sweaty nightclubs. Life is grinding monotony without end, a silver lining appearing only in the brief moments when their frontal lobes and genitals are clubbed insensate and worries drip down the drain as a seamy cocktail of puke, cum and vomit.

Screwed very quickly asserts that everything is terrible and that the most hellish prison you can ever be incarcerated in is your own life. The duo are in their early thirties - that time in life when you begin to realise that the future isn't quite as malleable as it once was and that some of the choices you've made are with you forever. This infuses the play with nihilism: after all, when you're faced with decades of grim blankness, followed by aged and poverty-stricken infirmity and finally a pauper's death - why not slug back vodka until the pain fades away?

And so the play rotates between the drudgery of factory-based manual labour, domestic bickering and destructive hedonism. Drunkenness and violence intertwine, leading to some fairly cataclysmic events for both women and the hapless factory foreman/kebab van owner Paulo who falls into their orbit.

Ordinarily I'd be praising the play for giving us a rare look at feminine debauchery and violence. Theatre, along with so much media, tends to explore male experiences, so it's always pleasant to see a play that zeroes in on feminine behaviour and relationships (especially one with punky don't-give-a-fuck verve). Unfortunately, the very night before Screwed I saw Ffion Jones' Ugly Lovely at the Old Red Lion, which covered the same ground with more success.

This is actress and writer Kathryn O'Reilly's first play and there's much that's promising about it. Throughout there's an impressive attention to rhythmic dialogue, the script establishing a breakneck pace that rarely lets up. On top of that there's a nicely disciplined use of time and space: though the majority of the play takes place over just one evening it successfully captures a wider snapshot of these characters' lives.

But it comes a cropper in characterisation and dialogue. Luce and Charlene are frustratingly close to being three-dimensional, but never quite cross the believability Rubicon. Luce is particularly narrowly written, more walking plot device more than human being. This is compounded by her getting the lion's share of dialogue apparently written primarily to shock: "There's something about man's cocks. When it's right in front of your face and you're seeing double and you wish there was two!". Luce's dialogue continues in this vein for much of the play, only petering out when she's droolingly paralytic.

The knock-on effect of is that it leaves Eloise Joseph with very little room to develop Luce past the opening scene. Thus, like the character, we get a performance that's energetic and boisterous, but doesn't really go anywhere.

Samantha Robinson's Charlene is a mite more complex, if only because she gets to play out internal conflict as she tries to find room for both her friend and her lover in her life and ponders her future. Robinson at least manages to convey a decent bleary desperation; you can practically see her eyes deadening into the blank gaze of the alkie the more the play goes on.

The supporting characters; the half-Russian would-be emigree Paolo (Stephen Myott-Meadows) and Luce's transgendered Mum Doris (Derek Elroy) are both rather workmanlike in terms of writing and performance. Elroy in particular is a damn decent actor, but finds precious little to work in the script, his character working primarily due to effective costuming and his silent reactions.

I wonder whether I'd be more predisposed towards Screwed if I hadn't have seen the same stuff dramatised better the night before in Ugly Lovely. But, as it stands, it's impossible to not to make the comparison. Screwed isn't bad per se, but its individual components never quite gel. However, politically and philosophically it's right up my alley, so I look forward to seeing how O'Reilly's evolves as her career progresses.


Screwed is at Theatre 503 until 23 July 2016. Tickets here.

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