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Slut by Patricia Cornelius - Review

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by Mistress of Culture Vultures (subscribe)
I am a writer living in Melbourne who loves to devour culture and the arts. Visit me at www.pumptheatre.com.au
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You who have not sinned - cast the first stone
Presented by The Burrow in time for International Women's Day, Slut is a short 30-minute play that packs a punch about how far we need to go to achieve gender equality.

Written by Patricia Cornelius and directed by Rachel Baring, Slut plays until 21 March at The Burrow in Fitzroy. Book your tickets here.

violence, abuse, assault, feminism, female, gender, power, Burrow, Brunswick, drama, play, theatre, Patricia Cornelius, Australia, SLUT, sexuality, freedom, Rachel Baring
'SLUT' by Patricia Cornelius - photo by Sarah Walker


Dear readers, I must confess that Patricia Cornelius is one of my favourite Australian playwrights because she writes about real humans as they are - raw and unpolished.

Such is Slut.

It is no surprise the central character is named 'Lolita' (Laura Jane Turner) - a name tainted as a 'precocious or provocative young girl' as told in the story written by Vladimir Nabokov and later produced as a film. The Australian equivalent of a 'Lolita' is basically 'slut' a slovenly women, a whore, a woman sexually available to anyone.

Many of us have known or 'know of' a 'Lolita' - a young girl who has 'come of age' too quickly and ends up being known as a 'slut, the town bike, or the girl behind the football shed'.

But did we ever really know her?

Do we know why she does what she does?

Is she the provoker of sexual enticement, or simply a human receptacle for sexual power?

violence, abuse, assault, feminism, female, gender, power, Burrow, Brunswick, drama, play, theatre, Patricia Cornelius, Australia, SLUT, sexuality, freedom, Rachel Baring
Lauren Mass, Michaela Bedel and Jessica Tanner are 'The Group' - photo by Sarah Walker


Lolita's school friends 'The Group' (Michaela Bedel, Lauren Mass and Jessica Tanner) present the voice of speculation and gossip. They are the bystanders and the witnesses to the things Lolita gets up too. The only information the audience knows about Lolita is through The Group and in the beginning, they describe Lolita as an empowered, sexually evolved girl by the age of twelve - well below the legal age for consent to sexual intercourse. Bedel, Mass and Tanner execute their roles with energy and exuberance, using the black box of The Burrow as their school playground.

violence, abuse, assault, feminism, female, gender, power, Burrow, Brunswick, drama, play, theatre, Patricia Cornelius, Australia, SLUT, sexuality, freedom, Rachel Baring
'The Group' in SLUT - photo by Sarah Walker


The Group tells us how Lolita developed breasts before any of them and allows boys at school to touch them. Lolita loses her virginity first. Lolita has sex at school discos, and in cars and at parties with multiple boys and men. But Lolita has never had an orgasm.

violence, abuse, assault, feminism, female, gender, power, Burrow, Brunswick, drama, play, theatre, Patricia Cornelius, Australia, SLUT, sexuality, freedom, Rachel Baring
Lolita (Laura Jane Turner) - photo by Sarah Walker


The Group adores Lolita, they revel in her lived experience of all things sexual and perhaps secretly wish they were as daring. But one thing is clear- Lolita is not always deriving sexual pleasure from these encounters. So why does she do it?

violence, abuse, assault, feminism, female, gender, power, Burrow, Brunswick, drama, play, theatre, Patricia Cornelius, Australia, SLUT, sexuality, freedom, Rachel Baring
Lolita (Laura Jane Turner) - photo by Sarah Walker


In Lolita's brief moments on stage, she mentions never having dreams or an image of the future. She appears carefree but silent - the very opposite of the 'Lolita' stereotype. She watches from the sidelines perhaps unaware of the drama unfolding around her.

violence, abuse, assault, feminism, female, gender, power, Burrow, Brunswick, drama, play, theatre, Patricia Cornelius, Australia, SLUT, sexuality, freedom, Rachel Baring
Lolita's friend (Lauren Mass) - photo by Sarah Walker


At one point, a friend in The Group (Lauren Mass) tells a story about how she and Lolita spent time at her Aunty's farm in the school holidays most of it swimming in the dam. This story provides a glimpse of how Lolita experienced fun and freedom away from boys and sex. This moment is reassuring to the audience that Lolita could have normal fun like other teenage girls.

violence, abuse, assault, feminism, female, gender, power, Burrow, Brunswick, drama, play, theatre, Patricia Cornelius, Australia, SLUT, sexuality, freedom, Rachel Baring
The Group (Jessica Tanner, Lauren Mass, Michaela Bedel) - photo by Sarah Walker


But who is Lolita? Where is her testimony of events? Does she have family? Where does she live? Who does she live with?

We find out very little about Lolita in Slut. All we know is provided through the narration of The Group who are excited and astounded by the risks Lolita takes. Lolita is known by her reputation - but no one really knows Lolita. She is invisible a legend, a story, a town myth and everyone loves to talk about her but no one intervenes or asks whether Lolita is safe?

violence, abuse, assault, feminism, female, gender, power, Burrow, Brunswick, drama, play, theatre, Patricia Cornelius, Australia, SLUT, sexuality, freedom, Rachel Baring
Jessica Tanner - photo by Sarah Walker


The Group discloses that Lolita ends up having sex with a lot of men by the end of high school and she now has an older boyfriend with tattoos. They have seen him drag Lolita by the hair. But they no longer spend time with Lolita.

violence, abuse, assault, feminism, female, gender, power, Burrow, Brunswick, drama, play, theatre, Patricia Cornelius, Australia, SLUT, sexuality, freedom, Rachel Baring
Michaela Bedel - photo by Sarah Walker


This 30-minute production of Slut left me shell-shocked. A trigger warning for those who have not seen the play.

After the applause, I left with a mind full of unanswered questions.

Did I miss Act 2?
Where was the catharsis of Lolita and the resolution of her story?
When do we get to know Lolita's story?
Was this how Cornelius intended it to end? Or was this the director's interpretation?
What did the playwright or director want the audience to do?
Was there a call to action that I missed?

violence, abuse, assault, feminism, female, gender, power, Burrow, Brunswick, drama, play, theatre, Patricia Cornelius, Australia, SLUT, sexuality, freedom, Rachel Baring
Lauren Mass - photo by Sarah Walker


Then I realised I was wrestling with my own sense of injustice.
No-one advocates for Lolita.
No-one advocates for sluts.
They never do. Not in Australia.
Why am I shocked by that?

Females have endured slut-shaming and stereotyping for centuries. Love us or hate us it seems our sexual freedom is never without consequences and irreparable damage.

Who were the men in this story?
Why do they remain anonymous?
Are they also empty vessels?
Did Lolita consent to all the sex she received?

Lolita simply states that she just wanted to be 'liked'. Sex became her currency, a transaction to make her feel 'liked'.

Where did Lolita learn about sex?
Where are her parents?
Where are the police?
Who is looking after Lolita?
And we all know the answer.
Noone looks after sluts.

What did the witnesses, or bystanders do?
Other than watch and gossip did they ever question the behaviour of the men who indulged or exploited Lolita's availability?

I remain mystified.
Most of the audience were female. Does Slut just preach to the converted?
What would a male audience think?

Despite the excellent production and the magnificent acting - I was not transported nor entertained. I felt ashamed, that it's 2020, and we are still here, where we have always been, and not much has changed in the playground of Australian culture.

See it for yourself.

'Everyone has the right to be safe and live free from violence'.

The Centre Against Sexual Assault (CASAhouse) provides 24 hour counselling and support lines (03) 9635 3610 or free call 1800 806 292.

The Women's Information Referral Service (WIRE) provides free support, referral and information for all Victorian women, non-binary and gender-diverse people. Call 1300 134 130 or email support@wire.org.au.

1800RESPECT is the national sexual assault, domestic and family violence counselling and information referral service. Online chat or call them on 1800 737 732.This service is free, confidential and available 24 hours a day, every day of the year.

MensLine Australia is the national telephone and online support, information and referral service for men with family and relationship concerns. Online chat or call them on 1300 78 99 78.

Kids Helpline is the national support line for people aged under 25. You can contact them anytime for any reason. Online chat or call them on 1800 55 1800.

Headspace is a national youth mental health service. Chat online or call them on 1800 650 890.

QLife provides anonymous, LGBTI peer support and referrals. Online chat or call them anytime on 1800 184 527.

Switchboard connects the LGBTIQA community - call 1800 184 527.

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Why? Has anything really changed in 2020?
When: Wed - Thu 8pm, Sun 4pm,
Where: The Burrow, 83 Brunswick Street, (enter through rear lane off Palmer St), Fitzroy, Victoria 3065
Cost: $25.00 - $28.00
Your Comment
Excellent review!
by carol (score: 0|4) 193 days ago
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