Every so often, one of the television channels will show a programme or series about what has become known as ladette culture. These shows are great as the audience can self-righteously sit back, relax and tut vociferously about these young teenage girls getting drunk and generally making, as my mother would say “a right show of themselves.” However, what happens when the ‘ladettes’ in question are not young girls but grown women and their antics are there, live and in front of you as you sit watching? Well, writer Kathryn O’Reilly seems to know and her play Screwed receiving its world premiere at Theatre 503 does not pull its punches in showing things as they are.
Screwed starts off in a factory where two thirty-something ladies are working at their station. Charlene (Samantha Robinson) and Luce (Eloise Joseph) are not girls, but, as they are keen to remind everyone, women and although their job is mundane that doesn’t matter as they live to party, hitting the town and the bottle every night then rolling into work – often late – to spend the rest of the day boasting about their escapades to anyone who is in their vicinity. They are both lucky to have their jobs still and should be thankful to their foreman Paulo (Stephen Myott-Meadows) who clocks them in on time and covers for their lack of productivity. Why does he do this? Well, it’s a good question – especially when you consider the teasing and verbal abuse that Luce constantly throws his way. However, Paulo has a bit of a soft spot for Charlene, and she seems to reciprocate his feelings as well. Life would be grand for these two if it wasn’t for Luce dominating her friend, so although Charlene wants to go round to Paulo’s for dinner tonight, instead, she ends up at Luce’s place helping her mother, Doris (Derek Elroy) film an online women’s sexual self-help presentation. Luce and Charlene are no strangers to exciting nights out but tonight’s escapades are going to top everything they have ever done before and will fundamentally alter their relationship for ever.
Ok, so Screwed has left me with a dilemma. I hated it all the way through. Now, before anyone gets over-excited, let me explain why I hated it. Basically it is so well written and acted that it produced in me a real dislike of the characters and their lives and profound wish to never have to interact with any of them ever in my life again. They always say to aspiring authors, “write what you know” but I really hope that Kathryn O’Reilly just used her imagination for Screwed and that she has never been like either the abominable Luce or the slightly less repulsive Charlene. Because these two women really are the dregs of society and both Samantha and Eloise have to be congratulated for bringing them to life so successfully. In particular, Eloise’s Luce was simply perfect with absolutely nothing likeable about her at all. She bullies her best friend, often pulling her into situations that she was not emotionally equipped to handle and is ready to dump Char at a moment’s notice in order to fulfill her own wants. On a scale of 1 -10 on the self-obsessed scale then Luce is a definite 12. On the other side, Samantha’s Charlene is more a vulnerable person. Always a follower, with poor self belief, Charlene will probably spend the majority of her life in friendships with women like Luce unfortunately. Stephen and Derek were excellent in their roles of Paulo and Doris respectively, I would especially single out Derek who brought a wonderful grace and serenity to Doris that was a very welcome antidote to the foul-mouthed tirades around her. She also had some very interesting and, I think, highly practical advice on certain things, that I have definitely made a mental note of for later use.
I have to admit, that as far as the writing goes, my one concern was why the author had chosen to make Luce’s mother a trans gay man. To me it almost seemed as if she was being given a ‘get out of jail free’ card to explain away her behaviour. I’m sure that this wasn’t the intention but I could see it being used that way, which is a shame as I think there were far more complex reasons behind Luce turning out the way she has. However, forgetting this, the rest of the writing felt very authentic and was quite upsetting at some points in the sheer animalistic behaviour shown by the two women. Director Sarah Meadows has obviously visited my bit of SE London as the movement, loudness and physical attitude of the women was spot on throughout as they worked their way round Catherine Morgan’s simple but highly versatile and very effective set.
Overall, I stand by my earlier comments. I disliked Screwed because it was so good. By the end, I did not really care enough about anyone – with the possible exception of Doris – to wonder what happened to them after the lights went up. Indeed I was happy to see the back of them. As they say at the start of the Ladette shows on TV, expect bad language, violence and upsetting scenes from the outset. In fact, if Screwed had been on television, then there would have been a “If you have been affected by anything you have seen in tonight’s programme…….” announcement as soon as it ended.
Highly impressive, very authentic writing, combined with great acting made for an altogether very unpleasant and yet strangely compelling play.
Review by Terry Eastham
KOR Productions & Theatre503 presents…
By Kathryn O’Reilly
Director: Sarah Meadows
Ticking time-bombs Luce and Charlene are 30-something binge-drinking soul mates. They clock in after heavy a night out on the tiles, popping caffeine pills and downing miniatures on the factory floor, boasting about last night’s sexual conquests.
When you’re living for today it’s hard to think about tomorrow.
A gripping and hilarious portrait of a dysfunctional friendship… This powerful play is a debut drama from Kathryn O’Reilly, directed by Sarah Meadows, and produced by Maeve O’Neill.
Writer Kathryn O’Reilly
Director Sarah Meadows
Lighting Designer Jamie Platt
Set Designer Catherine Morgan
Composer Benedict Taylor
Dramaturg Neil Grutchfield
Assistant Director Montana Plantier
Educationalist Tas Emiabata
Produced by Kathryn O’Reilly & Maeve O’Neill
28 June – 23 July 2016