Patrcia Cornelius’ ‘SHIT”. Image: Supplied.
SHIT is the latest project from renowned Australian playwright, Patricia Cornelius, and director Susie Dee. Examining the intersections between class and misogyny, the play centres itself around three women who have found themselves in jail after committing a horrific crime. These women have many things in common, including their view of the world, their lives, their future and themselves: it’s all shit.
Cornelius’ characters hit us like a slap in the face from the outset (and sometimes, literally with a slap in the face). They are hard, unabashed, vulgar, and at times downright cruel. Occasionally, however, we are offered glimpses into their inherent vulnerability. Nicci Wilks is the loud and hilariously profane Billy, whose self-hatred and emotional pain occasionally peeks through her very rough exterior. Peta Brady is the fragile, despondent Sam; a character that steals most of the sympathy from the audience through the exploration of her tragic past. Sarah Ward gives us the wise-cracking Bobby, whose guarded facade eventually gives way to reveal her own painful truth – a moment that I would say may be the play’s most affecting.
Dee and Cornelius are a perfect match as writer and director. Dee has crafted incredibly strong performances from Cornelius’ gritty dialogue, bringing these very difficult and unlikable women to life and imbuing each with their own distinct presence. Dee’s highly physical and fast-paced approach to Cornelius’ script is balanced with moments of silence and affecting naturalism, and it is this juxtaposition that makes these more somber scenes all the more tragic. Special mention should also go to Rachel Burke and Marg Horwell’s simple yet highly effective and clever production design. The prominent grayscale backdrop of Horwell’s set, paired with Burke’s effective manipulation of ambient lighting, allows for some striking tableaus that break up the dialogue-driven scenes nicely.
One of the play’s greatest strengths is its ability to provide us with an insight into some of the most distressing and complex issues facing the working-class, a grossly underrepresented demographic Cornelius often explores in her work. Within this intense and dynamic sixty-minute performance, the characters deal with topics of sexual and physical abuse, systemic poverty and misogyny (to name a few). In this way, SHIT is not an easy play to watch, but it is also a very important one, challenging its audience to engage with the unpleasant realities of our society.
SHIT exemplifies the kind of gritty, powerful Australian theatre Cornelius writes so well. Funny, proactive, face-paced and highly engaging, it is a play that forces us to confront our own prejudices by exposing a part of our society that is all too often ignored.
SHIT is running at the Seymour Centre until July 29. Get tickets here.