A new play from lauded Australian playwright Patricia Cornelius seeks to tell the stories of women who have experienced sexual assault at the hands of Australian footballers.
The new play commissioned by State Theatre Company South Australia follows the experiences of three women in a world of nightclubbing where professional footballers wear a godly social status around their necks. Combining verbatim accounts of sexual assault with Cornelius’ fictional telling, In the Club will bring the company’s ensemble cast into a highly physical and emotionally raw performance at the Odeon Theatre.
“It felt so timely in terms of it being a story that’s told over and over again in our press, and in football, with the sex and sexual misdemeanours, if not worse,” says Cornelius of being commissioned to write the play. “It felt like terrific timing to bring this into a theatrical realisation.”
While it’s a timely story with the momentous tide of the #MeToo movement, sexual assault is certainly not new.
“For decades, and probably my entire lifetime, you learn to live with the misdemeanours and live with the behaviours,” Cornelius says. “You learn very early that to be riled by it too overtly or go in battle against it does not serve you well… We’re just so lucky at the moment to have enough women with pluck to say, ‘Nup, not gonna put up with this.’”
It is society’s complicity in tolerating abuse that Cornelius aims to dissect in her story.
“I’ve actually been putting it in terms of lawlessness,” she says. “We, the women in this country and others, have been living under lawlessness, where things can be done to us and there is no response. There’s been no police response, no political response, and no real social response. But this is what we teach our girls: ‘This is what you cop. This is what will be said about you. This is what you’re never gonna have.’”
The movement confronting sexual assault and problematic behaviour not only makes In the Club a story of the time, but has been useful in Cornelius’ construction of the story. Weaving in verbatim accounts and references to recent events, news coverage and discourse online has given Cornelius an incredibly large amount of source material.
“It’s terrible but I kind of clap my hands with glee because this is all fodder for a playwright who wants to be able to feed in all of the most current things, and remind people of how real it is,” she says. “It’s not just fictional. It’s based on a truth of things that are happening.”
From the 4 Corners report on sexual assault in professional footballing circles to Anna Krien’s Night Games to the tidal wave of first-hand accounts on social media, Cornelius has drawn from a deep pool of disturbing information.
“On the internet there are actually a lot of women talking about stuff and these abuses, so I kind of pilfered my way through there, and talked to lots of young women and not-that-young women who have endured these sorts of assaults,” she says.
Key to the dissection of Australian society in this regard comes with an examination of the double standard between men and women’s sexual activity.
“As much as anything, this is a play that is very carefully trying to look at desire, and why a woman’s desire is considered lesser, and in fact frowned upon in relation to a man’s desire,” she says. “What’s that about? This is such an old idea and a very moral one, you know, ‘You’re a stud and I’m a skank.’ It doesn’t seem to have shifted – this punishing of women because they’re out there.”
State Theatre Company South Australia’s ensemble rehearsing In The Club
Following this thread of Australian football’s masculine world, it begs the question of whether Cornelius’ play has any relation to David Williamson’s 1977 play about professional Aussie Rules football, The Club. Is In the Club a reaction or part of a conversation with Williamson’s story?
“I think that The Club deals with the masculine world in a terrific way, and there are so few really good plays about sport,” Cornelius says. “I love that the title has kind of an echo of David’s original play, but I think that David’s talking about masculinity. This is really talking from a female perspective about sexuality and women’s currency in that. In some ways it’s totally related, but in others it’s a world apart.”
Asked if there is a target audience that she wants to challenge with In The Club, Cornelius says she never writes for a specific group of people, but believes that theatre should be about creating tension and provocation within an audience, rather than simple entertainment.
“I guess I would like to get under the skin of people who sit pretty and remind them that this world isn’t sitting pretty at all, this country isn’t.”
In The Club
February 23 until March 18
Photography: Sia Duff
In The Club contains coarse language and adult themes including explicit retelling of sexual violence. Recommended for a mature audience, ages 16+.
Below are some support services for those affected by any of the themes in this production:
1800 RESPECT | 1800 737 732
NO TO VIOLENCE | 1300 766 491
LIFELINE | 131 114