Sunday 3 September 2023

WHAT OF IT: Theatre Review

WHAT: What Of It
WHEN: 30 August - 9 September 2023
WHERE: Theatre Works (Explosives Factory)
WRITTEN BY: Rebecca Fingher
DIRECTED BY: Mitchell Whelan
LIGHTING BY: Spencer Herd
PERFORMED BY: Xanthe Blaise, Courtney Cavallaro, and Emma Wright
SOUND BY: Rebecca Price
CHOREOGRAPHY BY: Samantha Hortin

Xanthe Blaise and Courtney Cavallaro - photo supplied

Reality has a lot to answer for in this world. Not a lot of it is good, but Geordie Shore has spawned something which perhaps make the world a better place. Riffing off chav culture, an other-than-binary zeitgeist, and feminism, Rebecca Fingher's debut play What Of It has found it's way to the Explosive's Factory to kick off Spring.

What of it is a trio of chavettes hanging in the hood. Bored and restless they see a sign saying the world will end in three days and this begins a journey of indulgence and despair as the limitations of their lives become stark. Rebecca Fingher (writer) has crafted her characters well and their narrative arcs reveal their vulnerabilities and classic tragedy mores. They bring about their own downfall because of their own personality traits as much as because of the people and social structures around them.

Emma Wright's (Daks) piercing blue eyes and looming body dominate at the start, placing her squarely in the role of strongman in this gang of three. Courtney Cavallaro (Luck) embodies the young one, desperate to prove herself, perfectly. It is Xanthe Blaise's (Cory) performance which, in the end, left me amazed though. At the start of the play I thought she was too sweet to be the boss of this girl gang, but as the play progresses the character's psychopathy emerges and Blaise's girl next door demeanour makes it even more chilling than it might have been.

It is tempting in the current social climate to suggest that Fingher is inverting the gender stereotype but the truth is chavettes exist so What Of It doesn't reveal anything about the condition of binary gender constructs although it inadvertently does demonstrate the pathos of girls living in such a harsh patriarchal social system. I think the gender bending is supposed to sit in how Finger keeps the language in the male paradigm even though the characters are female. As such, they call each other bro and they call all the men around them bitches. Beyond that, I don't think there is much to speak of on this topic. Having said that, What Of It wins the award for best meme with their adage 'Big clit energy' and the hairdresser scene is a hilarious counterpoint to whatever a guy gang might have chosen to do at the end of the world.

I read an interview where Fingher says the idea for What Of It was spawned by a chilling event which happened in Perth around the behaviour of private school boys and how scared that made her feel. I am disappointed that, rather than facing those boys in her work, Fingher has descended to the low hanging fruit of people in poverty to work out her fears, thus enforcing the stereotype of poor people as dangerous. What Of It is good, but in terms of impact it is no Trophy Boys.

Now let's talk about the accents. I will begin by saying they are excellent and authentic - to the point where I almost felt I needed surtitles at the start! But then I started asking the question why. Why has an Australian playwright written a play specifically placed in a subculture which is not hers/ours? Why would you perform this play in this manner for an Australian audience and thus immediately alienate us from the story and therefore limit its impact? It could be argued that the accents are essential to the rhythm and meter of the work - and there is spoken word poetry within the text placing it in a rythmic realm. 

I kind of feel a bit more cynical about the whole exercise though and found myself wondering just how was this researched? Parts of What Of It felt like outtakes of things I have seen on TV and in films. Whilst Fingher finds beauty and depth in the pain of these wonderful characters I want to just bring a word of caution about authenticity. If the intention is to go international you don't need to pretend to be  something you're not. The thing which will bring international acclaim is authenticity. There is a basic adage amazing writers follow - write what you know. I just can't help wondering how powerful and real What Of It would have been set in the eshay subculture of Perth. 

What Fingher does do so well in What Of It is to examine sororal relationships. Cory, Luck, and Daks explore bullying, teasing, rites of adulthood and peer pressures. Their bonds to each other are dangerous and strong. What Of It starts a conversation about decision making and turning points. They say everyone has choices, but these three young women only have bad ones and for all the right reasons keep making things worse. 

I wish the play had gone a bit further. I think the natural end still hadn't arrived when the play ended. Daks, for me, became the most intriguing character. As tough as she is, her veneer cracks early and she is called out for it by Cory. In the ultimate rave scene she is pushed to decide who and what she is, but we never find out. We know Luck only has 2 possible outcomes and both see her ending up in a dark place. We know Cory is lost forever. What we don't know is what Daks' next move ends up being. Perhaps that unknown is deliberate. I really want to find out though!

Rebecca Price keeps the subculture vibe alive with hip hop rap and Samantha Hortin brings fun and powerful choreography for our gang girls. One of the strengths of What Of It is the endless array of tongue in cheek moments, lifting it out of the dark morass of chav culture, doing so through words and movement. Spencer Herd's lighting is dark and shadowy, evoking lane ways and night time. The places where cockroaches are free to roam, this is the home of our poor chavettes.

I think this review has been confusing, but that is because I am confused. On all technical levels What Of It is a superb play: excellently designed and directed for touring; exquisitely performed; and the writing is structurally strong with some beautiful phrasing and meter. I guess I am just tired of hearing English stories. I am not English and I do not live in England. I am sure they are all very jolly fellows but what I care about is Australians in Australia. I want my theatre to speak to me about me. I want to be offered insight into my world and my place in it. Otherwise, why am I even there?

4 Stars

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