Written by Patricia Cornelius, one of Australia’s most awarded and uncompromising playwrights, In The Club is a powerful and compelling work that shines a fierce light on consent, coercion, and sexual violence.
Given recent news headlines, a timely piece indeed, and one conceived when Cornelius was asked by Geordie Brookman, who was artistic director at the State Theatre of SA, to write it. Brookman felt that it was high time the football industry in relation to sexual behaviour was addressed theatrically. Cornelius was immediately keen. “It meant I had to find a surprising way in because of course the topic meets only disapproval, no surprise there,” she says.
With central themes concerning complicity and the protection racket which protects players from facing what should be dire consequences for their actions, the play bravely lifts the lid on a challenging subject and exposes unwritten rules.
“The most important theme though is the continued disdain for women and their sexual desire,” says Cornelius whose work continues to give voice to the underclass. “How, even still, women are blamed for putting themselves out there, for the way they look, for being responsible for leading men on, for asking for it, on and on it goes. Old tropes that basically condemn women having any sexual autonomy whatsoever.”
This play, like all of Cornelius’ hefty body of work, will engender heartfelt conversations and deep examinations of the status quo, which, so often, is simply not good enough. But the important one for Cornelius is a discussion about how players can remain unpunished for committing crimes against women. Is it that women are worthless?
In writing the piece, Cornelius says the greatest challenge was in deciding the form.
“There are three almighty monologues from three very different women who have gone to a club for a good time. I wanted to give the characters time to talk, time to place themselves in the world, to consider what they wanted and how sometimes it’s dangerous to get it.
This contrasts with a more choral style once they enter the club and are in the world of men, spoiled men, men who are considered gods, men who are young and focused on one thing – the game.”
The producers of the production talked with Cornelius about the idea of introducing songs at the start of the collaboration so, to bring audiences into the club world created by Cornelius, Bullet Heart Club is collaborating with multidisciplinary recording and performance artist Jaguar Jonze. The show will integrate Cornelius brutally poignant play, with a score comprised of remixed songs and tracks drawn out of the original album stems from Jonze’s Bunny Mode which she wrote as a middle finger to the men who have presided over toxic workplace cultures in the music industry.
Music production for the season will be by Melbourne composer Robert Downie (nominated for a Green Room Award for Best Sound Design/Composition for Alternative Futures in 2021)
Cornelius’ work had been prolific on our Australian stages in 2023 with Do Not Go Gentle running at the STC in May, My Sister Jill playing at the MTC in September and In the Club at Theatre Works in Oct/Nov.
Cornelius has written over 20 plays and says that there are often characters that come easily, who are fun to write perhaps because they are the clearest.” There are others that are trickier, and they can be difficult because I have to make sure that they are well-rounded and have an authenticity. Characters are everything. They make us understand their world, they must entertain us or at least engage us.”
It comes as no surprise that Cornelius likes characters that rub up against the world, who are hard to handle, hard to like even, but nevertheless might, even if just for a moment or two, win you over.
“There are so many stories that we don’t tell in our theatres. They are often critical of who we are. I tell stories that take us on, turn the myths about us on their heads, give the notion of who we are a good shake or two.”
In The Club is about tough stuff, but it has a great life force. Surprisingly there’s humour and much playfulness but like all good theatre it’s going for something.
They just want to get loose, get laid, and get love. But they are women in a world of men… and not just any men – Gods among men. Their beloved boys, the boys of the AFL. And the rules of the game out in the world of the night club are merciless. The lines of division are very clear. Toe that line or cop the foul.
October 26 – November 11