Friday 9 June 2023

THE CULTURE: Theatre Review

WHAT: The Culture
WHERE: Theatre Works (Explosives Factory)
WHEN: 7 - 17 June 2023
WRITTEN BY: Laura Jackson
DIRECTED BY: Bethany Caputo
PERFORMED BY: Mina Asfoor and Laura Jackson
LIGHTING BY: Capri Harris
SOUND BY: Charlotte Leamon
STAGE MANAGED BY: Colleen Willis

Mina Asfour and Laura Jackson - photo by Aden Meser

Domestic violence has always been a serious problem and right now it is red hot across community support organisations in Melbourne. In Powersuit Productions' play The Culture, currently ending it's international tour at the Explosives Factory in St Kilda the question is asked, 'How do intelligent and insightful people find themselves in these kinds of dangerous situations?'

The Culture, written by Laura Jackson, is a study of a pair of lifelong friends who are torn asunder by domestic violence. They went to school together. They went to Prom together. They live together as housemates. They even podcast and livestream together. The pair have an ease and synergy in their relationship which any romantic couple in the world would dream of having. The fly in the ointment of every best friends drama is the dating scene.

Katie (Jackson) and Will (Mina Asfour) are chaos energy integrated when the play begins. They bounce of each other like electrons and protons hurtling around to make an exciting atom - their podcast and vlog 'Don't Get Me Started'. This pair are woke and put the word active into activists. It's all in fun though. There is the usual blah-de-blah about dating apps which is just enough on the right side of cute to not make you yawn. The depth of their trust does emerge when Will accidently lapses into revealing a dark secret about date violence when he was at school and before he came out as gay.

Meanwhile Katie meets Kale at a bar and he gropes her. Katie is all 'ooh, get out of my face dude' which Will applauds when she recounts the incident at home. In a plot twist, Kale ends up working with Katie and at a work function Katie decides to have drunk sex with him because he is hot. Somehow this drunk sex turns into a relationship.

Over time we watch Katie withdraw from Will, start dressing differently, and they start finding themselves podcasting and vlogging on their own. Will wants his friend back but even Katie's voicemail message becomes replaced by Kale's voice. Katie stops indulging in her Cherry Ripe addiction and the silences between the friends widen just like the physical distance. They literally become ships that pass in the night...until one of Katie's vlogs ends in vision of Kale hitting her to get her to stop.  

This vlog entry turns viral and Will decides it is time to spring into action. He tracks her down and begs her to talk with him. The dilemma he faces and which we all know about is how do you get someone in a domestic violence situation out? How do you get past their sense of shame to reveal what is really going on? How do you help them become safe?

This is an answer nobody has, but The Culture models a fantastic version of friendship and support with which to try regardless of the outcome. The first and most important step, in my opinion, is to stop talking about the victim and start talking about the perpetrator. If you go and see The Culture you will see how it is done and how good it feels to hear those words. Apparently one woman in every three experiences domestic violence so all of these dilemmas should be familiar to the audience.

The script is pacy and well structured although I think it takes too long to get to the relationship with Kale which means there is not really enough time to reveal the development of 'symptoms' of Katie's experiences with Kale. Quote of the year goes to Will saying "We are royalty, he is lettuce!" I was intrigued by the little micro-aggressions Will imposes on Katie along the way. I would have liked this woven into the story a bit stronger because it is another prong in the domestic violence discussion we don't think about or even recognise and it adds a layer of complexity when Will tries to help Katie in her more obvious situation.

The attention to the stage design is impressive although there is no designer credited. My one complaint is the couch had centre stage - the big power position. Nobody has come to see a play about a couch. Most of the really important, insightful stuff happens at the podcast nook so it would be a much stronger set up if that was centre stage. Director Bethany Caputo really needs to consider this next time. The sound (Charlotte Leamon) really is quite perfect and the lighting (Capri Harris) is great.

Jackson and Asfour are energised and agile actors and really bring to life a friendship we all dream of. As I said earlier though, perhaps the biggest flaw in the play is that too much time is spent establishing this friendship and going for the laughs, which means the real story doesn't have the time or space to reveal itself in the creeping way it really happens. Towards the end of the play all the bad stuff is just thrown at us. This is powerful but, for me, it caused me to become detached rather than drawn in.

The Culture is a wonderful piece of theatre telling an important story and doing it very, very well. Also, they are partnering with Safe Steps and will match donations up to a $2000 cap which is another reason to see the show and learn more about this hideous epidemic which is so hard to bring out of the shadows.

4 Stars

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