Shit is the shit. The fourth show of the 2015 MTC Neon Festival of Independent Theatre screams louder and stronger than the women it’s about and inspires us to make our support for independent theatre louder than possible.
Writer Patricia Cornelius says, “Really good independent theatre is radical. It is actually going to shock you. It is actually going to make you think differently.” Shit is astonishing independent theatre.
I don’t understand why every theatre company in the country (and beyond) isn’t competing to get the next Patricia Cornelius and Susie Dee play. From their days with the Melbourne Workers Theatre to their 2103 award-winning and independently-produced Savages, their consistent accolades somehow don’t translate to commercial demand.
Shit is about three women who gave been arrested and are locked up. Their crime isn’t revealed until later – and shown remarkably with Marg Howell’s design – but the act isn’t what the work’s about.
Sam, Bobby and Billy are women whose stories are rarely told on our don’t-upset-the-subscribers or our let’s-talk-about-me stages. If we do see them, they are characters to laugh at; they are not “us” who go to the nice theatre. They are women who punch and fight. They are women who have never felt safe and joke about having a bed room door with a lock, wanting a bed with sheets and a doona cover, or remembering if someone ever hugged them as a child.
Their stories are confronting and raw, but not because of who they are. They confront who the audience are. The talk about being on public transport and knowing that all it takes to make someone get off is to yell at them. I would, and if I saw them at the train station, I’d get in the safe and crowded front carriage. This is theatre that lets us see ourselves through someone else’s eyes; eyes we may never have thought of looking through.
Cornelius’s writing leaves me shaking. Her dialogue sounds natural but it isn’t like spoken language. She makes the profane poetic and lets language be so much more than words with assumed meaning. Her text has shape and rhythm and feels like it’s beating to the heartbeats of her characters. It makes us listen to every “fuck” and “cunt” – and there are many – and really hear what they mean. And she only tells what needs to be told, leaving the subtext and the untold as the voice on stage that sneaks into your guts and doesn’t let go.
This text is given life by Susie Dee’s direction. Dee lets the actors be everything their character asks, while still working as one. She finds ways to make the shape of Cornelius’s words become visible. She take us from violent gutter back to the stage and reminds us that we are watching theatre and, as such, are complicit in creating the world and the lives we see.
All of which is nothing without Peta Brady, Sarah Ward and Nicci Wilkes as Sam, Billy and Bobby. Each embody the pain and anger that fuel these broken women while never letting the audience feel pity. They put up walls but the truth seeps out as they show us why we’re laughing at the type of darkness and violence that can only be laughed at to save yourself from despair.
This Shit is why we go to theatre. This Shit is real. It’s what can happen when a creative ensemble are given the resources to work together and not be concerned with pleasing or fitting criteria. It’s astonishing theatre that needs to be presented as far as it can be seen. It’s unmissable.