Double review: Shit and Love

Exciting double bill of two Aussie plays 

By Samuel Barson

Australian artists have had a strong history of presenting narratives of the downtrodden and damaged – from Rowan Woods’ Little Fish to Neil Armfield’s Candy – there has always been an attraction to the ugliness and distortedness that characters can embody.

When it comes to telling these narratives, there is no better than Patricia Cornelius. Two of her best-known works, Shit and Love, are currently playing as a double bill at fortyfivedownstairs.

Shit tells the story of Billy (Nicci Wilks), Bobby (Sarah Ward) and Sam (Peta Brady). These women have lived a life devoid of love and filled with abuse. They believe the world is shit, that their lives are shit and that they are shit, and the audience bear explicit witness to their observations. The acting is flawless, the commitment of each actor in bring their respective character’s story to the floor is outstanding. Portraying the roles of women who belong to a low socio-economic class could easily fall into ill-fitting stereotypes, but this is certainly not the case here. The cast exquisitely manoeuvre between dark humour and pure moments of confronting devastation. Just as you feel a laugh begins to form in your throat, you must swallow it again.

SHIT featuring Nicci Wilks, Peta Brady and Sarah Ward. Credit: Sebastian Bourges

The design was unapologetic in bringing the audience deep into the underground of the world the women inhabit. Rachel Burke’s lighting design and Anna Liebzeit’s sound design are equally haunting in their spontaneity and cold, threatening overtones. Cornelius, director Susie Dee and the actors have beautifully presented commentary with impact about the resilience of women in the face of the most devastating adversities.

Perhaps sharing the same streets as the women from Shit, are Tanya (Tahlee Fereday), Annie (Carly Sheppard) and Lorenzo (Benjamin Nichol). This next trio of characters present the exploration of love and addiction in the second play of Cornelius’ double bill, Love. The three young people are the abused as well as the abusers and are incredibly difficult to like. Together they share a distorted and mutated reflection of love that holds them together through scenes of equal beauty and toxicity.

Sheppard is the clear standout, her innocence and fragility amongst the abuse and exploitation around her leaves the audience heartbroken. She is a lost child, relying on the corrupt minds of her lovers to guide her through the world. Nichol has some standout moments acting as the comic relief throughout. However, he also brings what is perhaps the show’s highlight when he depicts a drug withdrawal fuelled breakdown that is very much the opposite of comedic.

Fereday puts in commendable effort, but I would have liked to hear more variety in her dialogue. Anna Liebzeit and Andy Turner’s respective sound and lighting designs were powerfully simple, acting to complement the actors who were the true creators of this world. Marg Horwell’s design included a stage full of glitter that surrounded the actors creating an image that was very far from the ugliness of the play’s characters.

Love and Shit is playing at fortyfivedownstairs 29 May – 9 June. Tickets can be purchased online or by calling the box office on 03 9662 9966.

Top photograph: LOVE featuring Tahlee Fereday, Carly Sheppard and Benjamin Nichol. Photograph credit: Pier Carthew.