By Nick Enright
Directed by Phillip Rouse
Don’t Look Away and Blancmange Productions
Blood Moon Theatre, World Bar
24 Bayswater Road, Kings Cross
Season: 29 September – 17 October
When theatre makes you feel deeply, and sit up and desire change, you know something important is brewing… The joint production of A Property of the Clan by Don’t Look Away and Blancmange Productions achieves just this, eliciting a gamut of emotion to mobilise audiences to take ownership of a devastating issue in our community. Sexual violence and associated underlying social attitudes are prevalent in our culture, and this work seeks to tackle the frequent lack of social mobilisation and ignorance encircling the issue. A portion of every ticket sold is going towards the work of White Ribbon Australia to stop violence against women, revealing a clear intention of the play to enact tangible social change. We can each do our part by engaging in a dialogue crucial to the recognition and transformation of a perverted and shameful culture in our society.
Enright’s script is based on real events in 1989 in NSW, where a 14 year old girl named Leigh Leigh went to a boy’s 16th birthday party, and was repeatedly physically and sexually assaulted by a group of people at the party, which culminated in her murder. Just a glimpse at the media coverage and the surrounding actions of the sexual assault and murder of Leigh Leigh reveals that we aren’t just dealing with awful perpetrators in an isolated incident. It is clear that we are mired in a vile culture where people are raped, and then we put them under a spotlight, scrutinising anything and everything about them that reveals why it happened to them. In this culture, we are desperate to point out that they were ‘asking to be assaulted’ all along. We try to separate ourselves from them, hoping that if we don’t dress provocatively, or stay out late, or drink too much we will be okay. Through this, we completely miss the point, allowing for the entitlement of perpetrators and the criminalisation of the true victims. Phillip Rouse’s A Property of the Clan stops shifting blame and rather uses the spotlight to give insight into the social attitudes and emotions surrounding the woeful event.
The newly established Blood Moon Theatre at the World Bar sets the stage for the piece, providing an appropriately intimate setting to tell the story. A large plastic sheet is strewn across the back wall, painted with a pandemonium of colour. The painting continually evolves throughout the play as the actors erase and re-paint the backdrop to accompany the emotion of the story. In this sense, the set design takes an active role in shaping the energy of various scenes, as the practice of painting is able to create a physical manifestation of the desired emotion through the actors. Rouse’s direction ensures that the theatre is perfectly manipulated by the performers as sounds and feeling reverberate in the small space, in turn filling the audience with exhilaration and devastation.
The play features an impeccable cast of four, as the actors take on multiple roles exhibiting flexibility and a mastering of emotion on stage. In structuring this play, Enright made a conscious decision not to depict Tracey, the victim of sexual violence, or the boys who assaulted her which resulted in her murder, physically on stage. This is important because the play hence focuses on the culture rather than the individuals, avoiding the temptation to relegate the issue to a few bad eggs, but approaching it as a systemic problem. All of the characters are relatable and yet none are entirely blameless, thus each person in the audience is encouraged to take responsibility for a problem rife in our society. Samantha Young’s performance as Jade, Tracey’s best friend, is riveting as audience’s witness firsthand the crushing impact of sexual violence, even when experienced indirectly. George Banders and Jack Starkey-Gill both give excellent work in depicting the uncomfortable contribution of an average teenager to the perpetuation of rape culture, be it through degrading attitudes or for failing to speak up when you’re a bystander to violence. The success in these performances is their ability to use humour and to be likeable characters at points, reminding the audience that any one of us is capable of perpetuating this culture. Megan Drury gives a strong performance with great tenacity, bringing hope to the audience as her character Rachel, refusing to let Tracey’s assault and murder go by without enlisting action in her community. Her performance as Diane is equally delightful for audiences to see her relate to her children with great heart.
Over 60 women have been killed as a result of domestic violence, so far this year. This is an issue that we cannot afford to ignore, in hope that it will somehow disappear. Leigh Leigh’s brutal sexual assault and murder occurred over 25 years ago, and yet the same sinister attitudes and culture prevail today. A Property of the Clan is a work that refuses to be silent or passive about the matter, as it demands your attention and arrests your emotion. We each have a duty to actively participate in this dialogue, if we want to shift ingrained attitudes in Australian culture for lasting change.