Please note: this review contains spoilers for the play. The play contains scenes of sexual violence, murder, stalking and assault.
Graham’s play CUT begins with a warning from the solo performer on stage,
a woman who is playing a flight attendant. It’s a warning you might usually
expect from venue staff or a voice from the P.A. system. Turn mobile phones
off. Cover watches that glow. Much of the production relies on true blackouts
and this is as much about protecting the performer and the audience as it is about
preserving the vision of the production.
she says, if the audience wants to leave at any time, they must put up their
hand and yell out the safe word “CUT”. Cut, cut, cut. She repeats. And if you
are to leave during the performance, you will not be welcomed back. And all of
a sudden, what is ordinarily intended for audience safety and comfort turns
sinister and rejects any notion of support.
I’m used to
going to shows in black box spaces that have strict lockouts – you can’t enter
after the show has begun and if you leave during the show, you can’t come back
in. It makes sense. Some spaces are so small, leaving means you’d be close to
interrupting the show. Putting the audience or the performers in danger.
here, it sounds like a threat. And I’m immediately offside.
begins by hyper-focusing on the woman’s routine – getting ready to leave the
house, putting “a face on her face” and getting through the city to the
airport, ready to start her work.
with this theatrical procedural, we get flashes of insight into her off-work
personality and her childhood and her dark fantasies.
the plane, a man with ash-black eyes is watching her. At first, she feels uncomfortable
and then the attention gives her a little thrill. But once they land at the
other end, he follows her. And follows her. And she keeps turning back to watch
him gaining on her. And though she describes a threatening scene, the perceived
level of threat appears to be less than her esteem boost.
CUT was first performed at Belvoir in
2011 and the later at Adelaide Fringe in 2015. The script dictates the opening
warning and the lengthy full blackouts throughout the play. It wants to keep
the audience on edge with its theatrical trickery.
text itself and its explicit suggestions that the woman is complicit in her own
stalking and later attack is genuinely troubling. The playwright alludes to
Greek myth and this is a revenge play, no question, but casting aspersions on a
woman’s sanity and – as the ad copy on the theatre’s website says – suggesting the
play “will leave you questioning where the danger really lies” makes the whole
endeavour feel completely irresponsible.
of the nameless woman, we learn, has a tendency toward sociopathic behaviour,
so the lines around intent are blurred early on. But it seems dangerous to take
the lived experience of women all over the world – being harassed at work,
stalked, assaulted and raped – and construct a narrative where she effectively
lures the man into a trap just to be able to have that dish that’s best served
cold. Putting an allusion to the Greek Fates into the play doesn’t make this Medea
production currently on stage at fortyfive downstairs is cohesive, but in the
end, it’s all in service of a play that I find reductive and shallow. The rape
scene is highly sexualised in way that implies consenting adults; even though the
woman talks about kicking and fighting back, she seems to be enjoying the
experience. It’s an ugly moment in the show. But it’s a deliberate choice,
which is mind-boggling in 2023, when we have better language and ways to
discuss consent, assault and stories of trauma than we did a decade ago.
I keep wanting
to describe the woman as an unreliable narrator, but even though the narrative
is non-linear, cut and reassembled, the woman tells us enough to put the pieces
together. She tortured an animal as a child. She tripped a woman on a gravel
path and laughed at her pain.
wants to confuse us and put us on edge, but in the end, even if the narrator isn’t
lying to the audience, putting these questions at the centre of a play about
assault and rape is too close to the reality of most victims of sexual assault –
they are not believed.
play where the audience doubts the woman’s version of events is reckless. Choosing to produce it in a post-“Me Too” world is wild. Asking us to question “where the danger really lies”
is absolutely shallow, given that in reality – the overwhelming victims of
stalking are women, most women who are raped and murdered are the victim of
their intimate partners, and it’s a rare case indeed that a woman lures a man
into assaulting her just to get the kind of revenge that might satisfy the
The spiel at
the start of the play feels like backlash to the deliberate posting of trigger
warnings, something which had started to appear around the time when Belvoir first
produced this show. This play doesn’t want to create a safe space or give you
any resources after the show. For a show that relies heavily on tropes
associated with the BSDM community (choking, blackouts, safe words, roleplay,
power/control), the production cares little for after-care.
in the narrative feels so constructed, that it’s divorced from reality. But,
but, but, it’s a revenge play! She’s a Greek God enacting revenge! It’s a story
about violence against women, written by a man, that wants us to doubt her and
fear her. We should have moved beyond this kind of narrative by now. It’s
appalling that we haven’t.
- Keith Gow, Theatre First
Special thanks to my partner for helping to edit this review. This was a tough one to find the words for.