Theatre review: In the Club, Theatre Works

Patricia Cornelius' play tackles consent, coercion and sexual violence in the AFL.
In the Club. Image is a theatre set of a dark smoky club with a black and red striped bench seat and a young man sitting with a young woman on his knee.

In the Club, a double entendre for both the nightclub and the footy club (but not in this instance pregnancy), tackles a culture that’s known for its “boys will be boys” mentality. Melbourne, a city at the heart of footy culture, is finally getting to see this glittery show that premiered in 2018, and is now running at Theatre Works.

Written by Patricia Cornelius, one of Australia’s most acclaimed playwrights, and skilfully directed by Kitan Petkovski, In the Club brings the spotlight to issues of consent, coercion and sexual violence. The play features Cornelius’ signature dialogue that roves between rhythmic and sharp, and is accentuated by the dark electronica of Jaguar Jonze, a prominent figure in the fight for women’s rights within the music industry. 

The narrative unfolds by introducing three distinct women. First, we meet Annie (Eva Seymour), a devoted AFL fan who tells us she didn’t truly contemplate gender dynamics until she reached 16. Then there’s Olivia (Brigid Gallacher), who regards boys as more foreign than the AFL, and finally Ruby (Michelle Perera), who educates the audience on how to appear desirable to men – she’s bold, knowledgeable and unapologetically sexual. Ruby’s monologue is particularly powerful, featuring poignant lines that foreshadow a harrowing climax, such as, ‘I learned to lure them in before I knew what to do with them’. 

Following a well-choregraphed dance number to Jaguar Jonze’s ‘Rabbit Hole’, the narrative shifts to a nightclub frequented by footy players. James, Sean and Angus, characterised by their animalistic “lad” behaviour, are loud and destructive, forming a tight circle around their potential “prey’” Each of the lads breaks away on separate antics: Olivia kicks off a “romance” with Angus (who flawlessly juxtaposes the nice guy and the lad), while Ruby searches for her next sexual conquest and, in doing so, gets “negged” by the eldest of the players after she rebuffs his advances. 

Annie , unyielding, relentlessly pursues Sean, the very footy player who had coerced her into his bed when she was just 16. Unaffected by her threats or persistence, he delivers a speech that epitomises how elite circles continue to evade repercussions, adding with a smirk that ‘no one wants to be on your side’.

Both Annie and Olivia face sobering fates, while Ruby peters into the background; it’s an unsatisfying conclusion to her narrative and perhaps a missed opportunity to explore her bid for power. By the end, it’s Annie’s character who fails to convince, seeming more like a coarse caricature of a slouched, “tough” girl. Still, her anger (notably when the audience witnesses her confront Sean regarding his previous behaviour) is an important ingredient for the narrative and ultimately speaks into the labelling of women who speak out: “crazy”, “attention seeking” etc. 

The overall production and Petkovski’s direction are highly proficient, notably the use of doorways and provocative lighting. The experience is heightened by strobing lights and live film that glimmers across three walls during the more intense moments.

Though Jaguar Jonze’s songs are sung well by Seymour and contribute to the thematic ambiance, they seem at odds with Annie’s character and detract from the intensity of the narrative. This, in turn, leaves the one-and-a-half-hour play with an unusual sensation of being simultaneously too lengthy and too brief to thoroughly delve into the characters and their responses to their traumas.

Read: Theatre review: Chewing Gum Dreams, Clubhouse Theatre, Townsville

The play concludes with the women drawing together and Annie’s character rejoining a football club, leaving us wondering about the fate of the other two. Annie’s Disney-like ending, while optimistic, doesn’t fully resonate given the weight of the play’s themes.

In the end, this reviewer left the theatre impressed by the overall production and the way the script captures the intersection of desire and violence, but pondering the ultimate message and whether it adds anything new to the discourse or if it simply echoes patterns with which we’re all too familiar. 

In the Club by Patricia Cornelius
Songs: Jaguar Jonze
Director: Kitan Petkovski
Set and Costumes: Bethany J Fellows
Lighting Design: Niklas Pajanti
Music Production: Robert Downie
Stage Management: Brigette Jennings
Music Dramaturgy: Ro Bright
Choreography: Mia Tuco
Video Design: Aron Murray
Associate Artist: Fleur Murphy
Consent and Intimacy Consultancy: Bayley Turner
Sound Engineering: Evan Drill and Daniel Gigliotti

Cast: Brigid Gallacher, Damien Harrison, Darcy Kent, Eva Seymour, Michelle Perera, Ras-Samuel
Produced by Bullet Heart Club and Theatre Works

Tickets: $20-$50

Contains coarse language and adult themes including explicit retelling of sexual violence. Recommended for a mature audience, ages 16+.

In the Club will be performed until 12 November 2023.

Nina Culley is a writer and horror enthusiast based in Naarm. She’s the Studio Manager and Director of Melbourne Young Writers' Studio where she also teaches creative writing. Her works have appeared in Kill Your Darlings, Aniko Press and Eureka Street.