In The Club examines sexual politics and trauma in Australian sporting culture in a technically lavish performance at the Odeon Theatre.
Set in a seedy nightclub frequented by footballers, In The Club follows three women across one evening, charting their interactions with the Australian gods that use and abuse them. It’s a show loaded with trauma, complex characters, strong Aussie vernacular and sex.
We open with three monologues from three very different women. Annie (Miranda Daughtry) begins, and she’s a footy fan from way back. The romantic Olivia (Rachel Burke) comes next. Ruby (Anna Steen) finishes, and she’s not afraid to admit it: she likes sex with beautiful men.
With white poles hemming the edges of the stage, a wet floor, and water frequently falling as mist or drips, it is impossible to miss the references to the winter-time football season in Geoff Cobham and Chris Petridis’ set and lighting design. These elements remind us that this is a field of play, with its own rules, goals and broken boundaries, while the watery floor casts evocative reflections and ripples around the ensemble cast.
This isn’t a simplistic narrative of victims, villains and heroes. Based on first-hand accounts of the sexual politics and assault of professional footballers and those in their orbit, playwright Patricia Cornelius has avoided making In The Club a binary bunfight of man versus woman. By giving the women strong backstories and dissecting the pack-mentality of men in groups, blame here falls on the shoulders of society as a whole as much as individual perpetrators.
Angus (Rashidi Edward), James (Dale March) and James (Nathan O’Keefe) play “our boys”, and alternate between hamming up their flirtatious power and painfully justifying their misuse of that power. One strong interaction between Annie and James sees March channel his on-field rage into a torrent of abuse upon a steely Daughtry. It’s frightening when the veneer comes off and that institutionally-awarded power is threatened.
There is some light through this murky darkness as well: comic scenes where the men and women fall into their gendered tribes to assess the other group, and prepare to stalk their prey throughout the evening.
The scenes of trauma are rather crushing, too, and often act to pop this bubble of fun. It’s not just explicit acts of assault, but the shame that is wrought upon these women simply for being. They have their own desires, be it finding romance or going to bed with a beautiful body, which is not at all different from what the other side wants.
A final powerful monologue from Burke’s Olivia also exposes the horrid, blasé attitude a pack of men can take to assault, which seems unbelievable in its uncaring nature at first, until you remember the half dozen times that story has lead evening bulletins in the past decade.
In The Club was performed at the Odeon Theatre on Wednesday, March 1 and continues until March 18
Photos: Sia Duff