By Patricia CorneliusDrama Melbourne Theatre Company
When a girl spits, or swears, or screams, or shouts, or she laughs too loudly, or she’s too shrill … Out of control girls, angry, nasty girls are a sight to behold. They’re terrifying, electrifying, they’re everything girls shouldn’t be, and we hate them.
This is a work about these girls. Their names are Billy, Bobby and Sam. There’s not a single moment when the three young women transcend their ugliness. There’s no indication of a better, or in fact any, inner life. They don’t believe in anything. They’re mean, foul-mouthed, downtrodden, hard-bitten, utterly damaged women. They’re neither salt of the earth nor sexy. They love no one and no one loves them. They believe the world is shit, that their lives are shit, that they are shit.
While deceptively simple in its form – a conversation between three women – there is an inventiveness in this play’s depiction of the central group of social outcasts, which plays subtly with the positioning of the audience within the action. The playwright skilfully uses violent language to reveal hidden emotional depths and political and moral complexities.
Cornelius structures the character journeys so that no hint of sentimentality or pity is permitted, and yet we are led to empathise at least on some level with these violent, self-hating women. This is assured and accomplished writing, where the playwright’s uncompromising political vision forces us to question our assumptions about theatre and society.
Three young women in a room.
SAM: Do you think anything could save us?
BOB: Like God, do you mean?
BOB: Like someone puts their hand in and pulls you out before you drown?
BIL: Like someone says, you’re right, you’re right, I got you.
BOB: Like someone shoots a crocodile just before it gets you.
BIL: Like a doctor cuts out the rot before it infects you.
BOB: Like when you jump someone’s going to catch you.
BIL: Like someone puts their mouth on yours and blows air in you.
BOB: Like someone says, keep away from her or I’ll kill you.
BIL: Like when...
SAM: Alright, alright.
BIL: Sam, nothing’s going to save us.
BOB: Too late to save us.
BIL: Way too fucking late.
BOB: We’re past saving.
BIL: Way past saving.
SAM: Maybe someone could’ve saved us when we were little.
BIL: Doubt it.
SAM: When we were three.
BOB: From the moment I came out nothing could save me.
BIL: From the moment my mum got knocked up nothing could save me.
SAM: Nothing at all?
BIL: A bedroom with a lock on the door.
BIL: There are ones who listen to music all the time.
SAM: I did that.
SAM: It cut down the shouting.
BIL: In one of the houses I was in a girl read books.
SAM: Did that save her?
BIL: Sort of. For a while. I saw her off her fucking face when she was about twelve.
BOB: Drugs can save you.
BIL/SAM: Drugs can save you.
SAM: When they’re in good supply.
BIL: I used to think someone was going to save me.
SAM: Me too.
BIL: Pick me up and carry me off… somewhere.
SAM: Me too.
BIL: And tell me good things.
SAM: Like, you’re a good girl.
BIL: Well done, you did real good,
SAM: You sat up straight.
BIL: You didn’t pick your face.
SAM: You ate, good girl, you ate.
BOB: You laughed in the right place.
SAM: You’re pretty when you smile.
BIL: You enjoyed yourself didn’t you?
SAM: You thought about someone else for a change.
BOB: You didn’t spit in anyone’s face.
BIL: Like someone who gives a shit, who says, I’m here for you, you know that, don’t
BOB: And says, do you understand, are you listening to me?
SAM: Look at me.
BIL: Look at my face.
All: You’re … worth … something.
SAM: What’s her name?
SAM: Got to give her a name, this woman who could’ve saved us.
BOB: Caitlin. How about that?
SAM: Caitlin cuddles us.
BIL: She bounces us on her knee.
BOB: I can’t stand being fucking touched but I’ll let Caitlin have a bit of a squeeze.
BIL: Caitlin’s got enormous tits and all she wants is to take us in her arms.
BOB: Oh yes please.
SAM: To make us happy.
BOB: To smooth away the pain.
SAM: To love us.
BOB: To stop Billy from saying fuck.
BIL: And from Bobby calling her a cunt.
SAM: And from biting her neck and draining her blood.
BIL: Caitlin might have saved us.
BOB: I had a Caitlin. For about a year I had her. When I was about eight, maybe nine, I know I wasn’t with her when I was ten. She had these huge tits and she’d grab me and tuck me into them. I’d be standing there and she’d grab me. I’d be on the couch watching tv and she’d grab me. On my way to bed, to school, just have to move and she’d grab me and squeeze the fucking shit out of me. Squeeze me every chance she’d get. Squeeze the life out of me. Squeeze me to death. I used to have to hold my breath. Then when I was ten someone else had me.
SAM: Couldn’t she save you?
BOB: No, too far gone.
SAM: What she doing squeezing you all the time?
BOB: Loved me I guess.
SAM: Fuck me!
BIL: I never had one of them Caitlins.
SAM: Neither did I. I love her. I love Caitlin.
BIL: I had cold fucking fish bitches.
SAM: The sit up straight, don’t touch that, that’s enough you greedy guts kind.
BIL: The stop that, and stop that, don’t do that kind.
BOB: One I had treated her dogs better than me.
BIL: I had one I liked. She was nice.
BOB: They’d growl at me when I had to get up and have a wee.
BIL: Then I got sent back to mum.
SAM: That happened to me sometimes.
BOB: Most of the time I’d piss my bed.
BIL: Never had one of them big titty cuddly ones.
BOB: Whenever I could I’d kick the shit out of them dogs.
SAM: Fuck Bobby, it’s not the dogs fucking fault.
BIL: Men, I had them.
SAM: Plenty of them.
BIL: Too many.
SAM: The sit on my knee and give us a kiss kind.
BIL: The tongue slipping between your lips kind.
SAM: This is just between you and me kind.
BIL: This is our secret kind.
SAM: The stink of their breath.
BIL: Fuck! I can feel their whiskers.
BIL: And their fat fingers.
SAM: And their hard dicks.
BOB: Yeah well, boohoo, never mind.
The Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards shortlist