Screwed, Theatre503

Char and Luce are free spirits who live their lives totally in the moment, but not in a happy, hippie sort of way. These inseparable 30-somethings work in a factory in Little England and spend their spare time clubbing, drinking and fucking. They have no life plans, just the immediate goals of getting pissed and getting off with blokes in toilets. Their line manager Paulo and Luce’s transgender mum Doris try their best to save them, but the self-absorbed duo don’t want to know. Kathryn O’Reilly’s debut play Screwed admirably endows women with stereotypically laddish behaviours, but there’s an uncomfortably judgemental tone taken on the lack of goodness within these women. The wonderfully biting dialogue and excellent performances from the cast of four easily seduce the audience, but the script’s message evokes troubling questions.

The two women are verbally abusive, physically violent and without a care for anyone else. Instant gratification is all that matters and they stop at nothing to get it. Their behaviour predictably catches up with them, but there’s little reform after disaster strikes. In contrast, the men in the story are as virtuous as the women are abhorrent. Why? What is this juxtaposition meant to say? Is it to prove that women can be just as bad a men? That male sensitivity is real and should be respected? That women should behave like this in order to feel empowered? Their working class background is obvious, though so is Paulo’s – but his ambition contrasts their lack of it. Is this a comment on social class as well as gender? There is clear reference to the  cycle of poverty, but it’s certainly not viewed with sympathy. All of these themes are raised, but none are particularly positive by the limited emotional range endowed on the duo. The harsh spotlight may be brutal and honest representation of working class, small town Britain but its sweeping generalisations about women and social class are unclear at best, and worrying at the worst.

Samantha Robinson and Eloise Joseph are Char and Luce. Their attack on the roles is positively electric, as is their chemistry and threat to anyone that crosses their path. Stephen Myott-Meadows  as Paulo is a quiet romantic with a biblical capacity for forgiveness. He’s the Nice Guy that always gets friendzoned, taken advantage of, and keeps coming back for more in the hope that things have changed. They never do, and his hurt is inevitable. In this case, it’s horrific. Derek Elroy is Luce’s saintly mother, unappreciated by her daughter, who still lives with her despite being in her third decade, on a daily basis. Elroy’s calm is a fantastic foil to Luce’s viciousness. 

Catherine Morgan’s simple set is a remarkable continuous line that forms the landscape Char and Luce barrel through on a day-to-day basis. As soothing to look at as Elroy’s voice is to hear, it’s metallic smoothness is a reminder of the connection between all things in the world. The girls’ behaviour might seem trivial on a small scale, but it deeply effects those closest to them.

Screwed is a difficult play to pin down. On the surface, it’s fantastic. But upon pondering what O’Reilly wants to communicate, it becomes more troubling, a judgment of male and female behaviour within working class suburbia. There is clear moralising, but the moral of this story is not a comfortable one to take in.

Screwed runs through 23 July.

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