SHIT, The Reginald, Seymour Centre, 18-29 July 2017. Photography by Prudence Upton, above and below - Peta Brady, Sarah Ward and Nicci Wilks
Sam, Bobby and Billy (Peta Brady, Sarah Ward and Nicci Wilks), are three young women for whom life is, was and always will be, utter shit. They have no hope, no aspirations, nothing at all but the unlikely poetry of profanity – given to them by Patricia Cornelius in yet another short (60 minutes), sharp and brilliant play about the underclass. (Most recently we were treated to Slut, the 35-minute tour-de-force for five female actors, staged at the Old Fitz.)
Billy, Bobby and Sam are at once frightening and tragic. They are the vicious, foul-mouthed little bitches who take pleasure in terrorising the other passengers on a bus; they harm each other and anyone else in range just for the chance of feeling pain – the only sensation they recognise. Listening as their life stories play out, it’s obvious they are damaged beyond repair, but they are not yet broken.
The three have been in and out of foster homes and other institutions since they were old enough to abuse and be abused. They share chunks of their stories with each other and the audience, there are shockingly funny moments and simply shocking moments when a quiet gasp from the auditorium punctuates the action.
Shit was briefly seen at the beginning of the year when Jason Blake wrote of it in the Sydney Morning Herald: “best written and made piece of local theatre in the Sydney Festival program...” and on its return, much the same can be said of it. Directed by Cornelius’s long-time collaborator, Susie Dee, Shit is tightly choreographed and freewheeling by turns; as intense and desolate as the shrivelled but frantically beating hearts of the three characters.
This sense is heightened by the stark grey set (design Marg Horwell). It could be a concrete bunker, the bowels of an underpass or an abandoned building, but whichever you choose, its impassive bulk of concrete and cold shadows (lighting Rachel Burke) is an oddly beautiful site for the stories. And Anna Liebzeit’s soundscape adds a further dimension of energy and alienation to the mix.
If this sounds grim it’s because it is. Billy, Bobby and Sam give no quarter and expect none in return, but Patricia Cornelius is an extraordinary playwright and Shit is not to be pigeon-holed nor easily dismissed with a bourgeois shudder. It’s provocative and wickedly entertaining because it refuses the sentimental response and dares the watcher to stay clear of its powerful attraction.
Peta Brady, Sarah Ward and Nicci Wilks each bring a sharply-delineated life force to the stage and are tremendously affecting in their different ways. All in all, this production (now over and done) should have been on the “must see” list for Sydney theatre-goers. That it was not sold out every night is a puzzle which needs to be solved if producers are to continue staging such brilliant work. Shit picked up at least half dozen awards in Melbourne for various elements of its excellence, and those who saw it at the Seymour Centre will know why. Great, tough and enthralling entertainment.